Half-cent Steamboat sales tax nets Routt County schools about $5.3M in grants
Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board awards the most money it ever has since the tax was first approved by voters in 1993
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Schools in Routt County will get the largest influx of funding they have ever received from the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board this year after last year’s grants were about 25% smaller.
Conservative initial budget estimates for this year and an unexpected windfall of sales tax dollars in Steamboat Springs led to much stronger financials than the board expected. Almost $5.3 million in grants for the county’s three school districts Steamboat Montessori School and several other local nonprofits were approved this week by the board.
“Steamboat Springs city sales and use tax outperformed our projections,” said Sam Jones, president of the board, in a statement. “The board voted unanimously to make these funds immediately available to schools and community groups.”
Last year, the board delayed awarding the money as it reassessed its budget in the early months of the pandemic. Ultimately, board members awarded $2.8 million in grants, down from the $4.3 million the year before. The fund draws its money from a half-cent sales tax Steamboat voters last approved in 2018.
The sales tax was passed in 1993 and has raised about $70 million for education in the county since it started. In 2009, the program was extended to include Hayden and South Routt school districts.
“Last year was a pretty big hit for us, because we went from around $200,000 to about $140,000, which, for a district of our size, is a pretty big cut in percentage,” said Hayden Superintendent Christy Sinner. “It is really allowing us to integrate some things we have been wanting to that we did not have the funds to do prior.”
Sinner said through a series of staff meetings, she collected ideas for how the district could best spend the money. The district will use the funding to keep their curriculum coach, update some of the curriculum and invest in technology, including the purchase of more iPads and Chromebooks.
Sinner said some of the money will be used to hire more interventionists, who work individually with students who are falling behind.
“Even though we had the ability to be in person all year, there is still concern of learning loss,” Sinner said. “Just to make sure (students) are instructionally where they need to be, so we can continue to move forward with the rigor.”
The Steamboat Springs School District received the bulk of the funds — $4.3 million, or about 81% of the total. South Routt School District and Steamboat Montessori School each got about $213,000, about 4% each. Hayden School District got about $266,000, or 5%, and $87,500 went to support two grant writers for the schools, who typically are able to secure about $2 million in additional grants each year.
“It is just huge in that it allows us to meet some of our students’ needs that we do not have another funding source for,” said South Routt Superintendent Rim Watson. “So much of our budget is spoken for because of salaries and benefits, so the part that allows us to do some extra things for students, this is a huge component in that.”
Watson said the money helps pay for a guidance counselor, another math and science teacher and additional intervention and mental health support and to help gifted and talented students. It also will support some technology costs.
Because the money increased this year, Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said the district is using some of the money on one-time expenditures for things like an electric bus, a special education bus, furniture at Steamboat Springs High School and a vehicle to be used at Sleeping Giant School.
“We are trying to be really intentional with how we are using some of this additional money this year, because we know that is not going to be available every year,” Meeks said.
For Steamboat Montessori School, this money makes up about 8% of its total budget and is the only money it receives from taxpayers.
“We use it all for staff and enrichment programs,” said Head of School Michael Girodo. “Every other tax dollar that is generated for schools, we don’t get access to, so it is a really big deal for us to be a part of it.”
Girodo said Montessori will earmark all the money for student-facing costs like Spanish, art and physical education teachers as well as a Wednesday enrichment program the school hopes to start up again this fall.
Another $214,000 of the education sales tax money will be split among 10 local nonprofits, including Integrated Community, Northwest Colorado Health, Opera Steamboat, Partners in Routt County, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, STARS, Steamboat Dance Theatre, Steamboat Symphony Orchestra, Yampatika and Yampa Valley Autism Program.
“To me, it really speaks loudly of how much the community supports education and the endeavors that we are doing,” Sinner said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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