Our View: Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board changes are welcome
April 2, 2013
Change isn't easy, but it's often good and necessary. In the case of the Steamboat Springs School District and the Education Fund Board, a fundamental change in the granting process is long overdue, and we support the efforts of Fund Board members to push the district in that direction.
Unfortunately, some in the district seem less than enthused about letting go of the status quo. But what they soon may be forced to realize is that they ultimately have no control over how the volunteer Fund Board doles out revenues from the city of Steamboat's half-cent sales tax for education.
The Fund Board wants the sales tax revenues to be allocated based on the merit of the individual requests, and some of its members increasingly want the money to be spent on educational "extras," not general operating expenses like staff salaries. The Steamboat Springs School District wants the money to continue to be used to pay the salaries of numerous district teachers and support staff as part of an effort to keep class sizes down. This year's school district request of $1.2 million to cover the salaries of 22 employees was larger than all of the Steamboat school system's other requests combined and a full 50 percent of the total money the Fund Board anticipates to be able to dole out in 2013. The magnitude of that individual request and the lack of details in the request itself irked some Fund Board members.
The poor communication between the two entities and the resulting frustration could be the result of a collision of old and new. For many years after Steamboat voters first approved the half-cent sales tax for education in 1993, the tax revenues served essentially as a secondary source of operating revenue for the school district. Four Steamboat Springs School Board members were voting members of the Fund Board, helping to ensure that what the district wanted and needed, it got. But the process has continued to evolve throughout the years, and rightfully so. Partly as an effort to protect the sales tax from legal challenges — state law prohibits school districts from establishing secondary sources of tax revenues outside the state's school finance formula — the School Board's presence on the Fund Board was diminished and the grant request process became more formalized and structured. Then, in 2008, Steamboat voters extended the tax for a fourth time while also signing off on some of the revenues being spent on the South Routt and Hayden school districts.
We can't help but sense some lingering resentment about those changes from some within the Steamboat Springs School District. It's now reached the point where the tension between the School Board and the Fund Board is palpable. The district's recent request for $1.2 million to pay for 22 staff members as part of a "small class size" expense may serve as the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
The Steamboat Springs School District must stop looking at Education Fund Board dollars as a means for taking care of normal operating expenses. It's long past time the district set its own annual budget by including everything it considers necessary for the education of its students — including the salaries of guidance counselors, core curriculum classroom teachers and other support staff. The district then should look to the Fund Board to help pay for the "extras" — the technological tools and educational programs and initiatives that supplement what the district is able to offer itself. Fund Board grants should not be for extensive ongoing operational expenses, like the salaries of nearly two dozen full-time employees, that must be approved year after year.
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It's clearly not an easy change to make, and perhaps it's not feasible to accomplish in the course of a single Fund Board budget cycle. But we hope increased, and improved, communication between the district and the Fund Board will lead to a better process going forward.