Letter: Confused by recent editorial ‘about-face’
As the community representatives who were on Steamboat Pilot & Today’s editorial board that offered caution on the matter of the funding for a new school in West Steamboat (Our View: Proceed with Caution, June 26), we are among those who are more than confused by the Pilot & Today’s about-face on ballots 4B and 4C in its editorial of Oct. 16 (Vote “Yes” on 4B and 4C).
Like the current editorial board, we spent a good portion of a day touring the district’s major facilities. One didn’t need the students running the halls or being in their classes to see that there were serious issues in aging and outdated facilities.
We came away believing that significant resources were needed to address a lengthy list of projects to repurpose and expand the space in the two elementary schools, the middle school, the high school and Yampa Valley High School. We didn’t visit the charter school in North Routt but assumed that the proposed added facilities in North Routt were no less essential.
With this in mind, our editorial board in its June 26 editorial strongly recommended support for a bond that would provide the funds to address these clearly delineated projects. This represented about $27 million in new spending, no small ask from community taxpayers.
Our caution on the $52 million for a new school, plus the $2.8 million in annual operating costs was driven by two factors. We did not want to put at risk voter support for the immediate and necessary projects by tying the $27 million to spending on a new school. And we were sufficiently convinced that the uncertainty of the need for a new school argued for a wait-and-see approach until the picture about the size of our student population and the impact of adding significant new space into the existing facilities was better understood.
As is its right, the Steamboat Springs School Board went in a different direction. Ref. 4C represents an “all-or-nothing approach.” The ask is for a $79 million bond that combines spending on projects that are clearly essential with a project that may or may not be necessary. Put us in the column of those who see this strategy as both overreaching and fiscally irresponsible.
The Pilot & Today’s Oct. 16 editorial went to great lengths to paint a picture of overcrowding and organizational chaos in our system’s four main schools. We don’t dispute this assertion. That is why we saw great merit in adding 30,000 square feet in new and more efficiently used space to the system’s existing six facilities. At $27 million plus interest, this is the right investment at the right time.
So there we have it. Adding a new school is the difference between the Pilot & Todaya’s editorials of June 26 and Oct. 16. The caution we suggested back in June stemmed from the reality that the 20-year construction and operations cost of a new school is a very large number, north of $150 million. This is also a number that was never mentioned in the Pilot & Today’s Oct. 16 editorial.
But for us, this number should be at the center of voter consideration of 4B and 4C. District voters have a history of supporting that which is necessary and fiscally responsible. Taken together, 4B and 4C is neither.
Wouldn’t it be prudent to first add the 30,000 square feet in additional facilities to see what may be further necessary? And shouldn’t we see if the development in West Steamboat and other district neighborhoods adds a significant new population of school-age children to the district as advocates for the new school assert.
The Pilot & Today may have changed its mind, but, with an eye on the need to maintain both our community’s ability to provide quality education and to ensure fiscal sustainability for our businesses and taxpayers, we have not.
Steven Hofman and Robin Stone
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