Education Fund Board delays awarding of grants to area schools until June
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board has decided to delay awarding grants for the 2020-21 school year until their June 6 meeting.
Normally, the board awards grants at its May meeting after setting an initial budget forecast in March.
On March 4, when the board put forth its original budget forecast, the world looked very different.
“The uncertainties in future (sales) tax revenue due to COVID-19 has rendered the original budget forecast obsolete,” according to a news release from the Education Fund Board.
The board is now planning to present a finalized budget forecast at its June 6 meeting, when they will also announce the awarding of the grants. Preliminary forecast estimates will be given to school districts on May 20.
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The grants are funded by a voter-approved, half-cent city sales and use tax, which is designated for public education. Funding is distributed to the county’s three school districts as well as a handful of nonprofits.
This year, the board has received more than $6 million in grant requests.
All money is allocated as a reimbursement. The schools and groups spend it first, show the Education Fund a receipt matching the original request and then are reimbursed.
Since 1993, more than $65 million has been granted to public education in Routt County through the sales tax.
Last year, the board awarded over $3.8 million. The Steamboat Springs School District received just over $3 million. The Hayden School District received $196,000, and $159,000 went to the South Routt School District. Mountain Village Montessori received $147,574. Nine nonprofits with school-based programming received a total of $153,000 in grant funding.
The requests always exceed the funds allocated, as each district and group puts together a detailed wish list to support everything from technology upgrades to full- and part time positions.
As those requests are narrowed down, the ultimate funding decisions are made by the fund’s 11-person volunteer board of directors, based on recommendations from the fund’s grants commission, whose 11 members review every application.
In Steamboat, the fund pays for about 17 to 20 full-time employees.
“The board has always granted money based on a forecast of future sales tax revenues,” said Education Fund Board President Sam Jones in a news release. “The original idea was to get the money to the schools as quickly as it was available. However, this puts us in a difficult situation for next year. We are essentially spending money we don’t yet have available, so we need to forecast in wildly uncertain times.”
According to the board, preliminary information from the city indicates a close to 32% drop in sales tax revenues for March, and that was only two weeks into the COVID-19 shutdown.
“The bottom line is, if we are too conservative, we will have money in the bank next year, and if we are not conservative enough, we may not be able to pay out the grants we promise,” Jones said.
The board is planning to convene a subcommittee focused on studying a variety of economic indicators to assist with the forecasting.
“The board’s first commitment is to make sure it can pay out the funds granted last year for the current 2019-20 school year,” according to the release.
Because the school districts are also awaiting more information from the Colorado Department of Education on cuts to the per-pupil funding due to COVID-19, numerous factors are delaying the typical process of setting budgets for the 2020-21 school year.
In addition, schools don’t even know for certain whether school will resume in the fall as normal, or if there will be a continuation in distance learning, which would also significantly impact the budget.
Steamboat Springs School District Finance Director Mark Rydberg said he is preparing parallel budgets for each potential scenario.
At the Steamboat Springs School Board’s April 13 meeting, Rydberg told the board many of the items requested from the Education Fund Board, which fall under the “program enhancement” category, likely won’t be covered for next year, including things like additional programming for gifted and talented students, behavioral therapy and a bi-literacy program.
“With so much uncertainty, the board understands that grants previously submitted in January may not apply,” said Board Vice-President Jeanne Mackowski, as the requests for funding from the districts are highly specific. “The awarding of grants may look different than in previous years. The board is reviewing different ways to allocate funds that may not be so specific to the original grant requests.”
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