Grades and money the future of schools

Q. What is your reaction to Thursday’s ratings? What does your district’s scores say about your school system when compared to others in the area?

A. Steamboat School District is very pleased that a lot of hard work by school staff and support by the community resulted in all four schools receiving “high” ratings on the report cards. As well, it appears that Steamboat did exceptionally well as the state compares schools in the same region.

Q. How will the accountability ratings reshape school policy in the upcoming years? Will there be more of an emphasis on the subjects that are tested in the CSAP?

A.Accountability ratings won’t reshape future policy as much as reinforce the course the district is currently following. Steamboat is distinctly ahead of the curve in Colorado for using test results to continually improve in areas that results show need emphasis.

The district for many years has been testing to provide a profile of student achievement and map a plan for continuous improvement. The district already has a broad radar scope to search for areas requiring emphasis. CSAP testing simply makes this process consistent across Colorado; and Steamboat is in the process of substituting CSAP’s for previous tests. The district is also very cognizant of balancing testing time and learning time.

Incidentally, Steamboat would not be demonstrating far-above-average test results and be on the accelerated pace of continuous improvement without the half-cent tax dollars. In part these dollars provide resources to accomplish change that the district could not otherwise afford.

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Q. How vital are teachers to student performance in tests like the CSAP and ACT, which are used in the accountability ratings?

A. There are many things that can help bring about improvement in student achievement: small class size, effective curriculum, technology, concentrated focus, change in areas of need, etc. Steamboat is “firing on all cylinders” again in great part because of the half-cent sales tax dollars.

However, there is much published data showing that high quality teachers have the most significant impact on improving student achievement. The board’s number one priority right now is to hire and retain high quality teachers. It is important to note that the district’s “Results and Policies” also have high expectations to develop good citizens and have each student through conscious thought decide what they want to do after high school and be prepared. To accomplish these goals each employee in the district plays a role; and therefore the board is interested in hiring high quality staff for every position.

Q. School officials say our teaching salaries are no longer competitive with other school districts. How did our salaries drop below those other districts?

A. In past years the district has struggled to pay Steamboat teachers competitively. Recently, some Colorado districts have widened the gap on salaries compared to salaries Steamboat is able to pay. As well, in many high cost of living districts like Steamboat, salaries have not kept pace with the actual cost of living increases in those districts. On these two issues, the district is simply behind the curve. The problem is exacerbated when interviewing for teachers on a national scale. Colorado is in the lowest 25th percentile nationally in teacher pay.

Q. Why should the community support the cost of living tax on November’s ballot? And, do you think they will?

A. The state just passed a law (carried by our Representative Al White) that allows high cost of living districts to adjust a cost of living factor in the state finance formula to better allow salary increases commensurate with the cost of living increases in those districts. However, the issue must go before local voters; and that’s what’s being done with the ballot issue.

In order to hire and retain quality teachers, who would have the highest impact on our student’s achievement, the district has to be able to pay competitive and “affordable” salaries.

Some may ask “Why doesn’t the half-cent sales tax accomplish this?” Each campaign for this tax represented many promises to the community including one that none of the money would be gifted to the district’s general fund to be used for general staff salaries. Additionally, it would not be prudent to spend half-cent tax dollars that need to be reapproved periodically on salaries that require a long-term commitment. Because of the growth realized in Steamboat in recent years, there are more people paying property tax to fund the district’s revenues that are limited by the state finance formula. For next year the school district’s mil levy rate will go down from approximately 27 mils to approximately 22 mils. Either way, most property owners and businesses will see a decrease in tax paid to the district.

Typically, Steamboat has been very supportive of the schools; and the district has established a great deal of confidence and credibility with the community through the hard work of staff, district accountability committee and community audit teams as evidenced by results. This strong commitment and relationship plus the fact that, in most cases, taxes will still decrease leads me to be very hopeful that the community will once again support the schools.