Our View: Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board should keep merit in mind | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board should keep merit in mind

There's merit to the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board's recent decision to establish a minimum level of funding for the Steamboat Springs School District this year, but we hope such a move doesn't come at the expense of evaluating individual funding requests on their merit.

The Fund Board's decision was logical enough. Since Steamboat voters last extended the half-cent sales tax for education in 2008 — the same year they approved a separate ballot measure authorizing the Fund Board to share some of the tax revenues with the Hayden and South Routt school districts — the amount of money going to the Steamboat Springs School District has trended downward. To be sure, a significant contributing factor to that trend is a decrease in sales tax revenues since the onset of the recession.

Fund Board Vice President Roger Good, among others, was concerned about the decreased funding for Steamboat. As a result, the Fund Board unanimously approved establishing a funding floor of a little more than $2 million for the Steamboat district this year, an increase of about $54,000 from what the district received last year. That means Hayden, South Routt and any community groups who make requests for some of the tax proceeds will be competing for total funding of between $300,000 and $400,000.

At least one result of the Fund Board's decision is an apparent easing of tensions with the Steamboat Springs School District, whose officials have expressed frustration with the communication between the two entities as well as how the Fund Board was vetting the district's funding requests. That's a positive and necessary development.

There are other benefits to a defined amount of funding for the school districts that benefit from the tax proceeds. A significant one is the predictability it offers for annual budget-setting. The Fund Board is likely to discuss whether establishing funding baselines for each of the three school districts would be appropriate for future years.

But our biggest worry is whether guaranteeing a certain funding level for school districts will de-emphasize the Fund Board's commitment to evaluating individual funding requests based on their educational merit and the impact they will have on student learning and achievement. If the Steamboat Springs School District knows it will receive at least $2 million in funding, will it be motivated to put the same effort and thought into its requests as it has in previous years? And if not, will the Fund Board be willing to send the district back to the drawing board?

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"Whatever we decide (about how to allocate Fund Board dollars in future years), the goal should be that every dollar goes to enhanced academic achievement," Good told the Steamboat Today last month. "If you set that goal and evaluate the grants against that, it seems like a reasonably good way to go."

We agree, and we hope the Fund Board sticks to that philosophy.