Our View: Taking care of what we already have
At its July 18 meeting, the Steamboat Springs School Board voted unanimously to direct Superintendent Brad Meeks and Finance Director Mark Rydberg to go forward with necessary steps to seek the district’s voters’ approval to borrow $12.9 million in the form of a seven-year bond to fund critical infrastructure projects, including new roofs on five school buildings. In addition, the board directed district administration to seek a new property tax mill levy that would be counted on to generate $1 million per year in new revenue to ensure the district stays ahead of the need to maintain its facilities in the future.
It’s premature for us to either endorse or oppose the school district’s ballot question, but we see merit in the school board’s cautious approach to going back to the taxpayers after the dramatic failure of the $92 million bond issue of 2015. We should also say that, earlier this year, we editorialized that a more ambitious proposal from the Community Committee For Education, or CC4E, that called for seeking funding for additions to two existing schools this fall “made sense” to us.
We still like the projects outlined in CC4E’s proposal, but we also understand the desire of the school board and administration to take more time to flesh out the details of the building additions CC4E has proposed before asking taxpayers for the money.
This time around, the district is intent on demonstrating fiscal responsibility and a deliberate approach to working through a big challenge. The board and administration have said they intend to form a citizens’ oversight committee, which, if the twin revenue questions on the November 2017 ballot are approved by the voters, would assure them the monies have been expended as promised.
We interpret that as a clear indication the board and administration want to be accountable to voters.
In addition to the overdue roof repairs, the district intends to replace aging athletic infrastructure at Gardner Field: the running track, all-season turf on the lacrosse/soccer/football field and bleachers and restrooms that don’t meet 21st century safety and ADA standards. Finally, they want to replace inadequate heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment that significantly detract from the learning environment at Steamboat Springs Middle School.
It’s important to know, Meeks believes, that 83.4 percent of the school district’s budget funds salary and benefits for its staff, or as he would put it, “high-quality staff who establish strong relationships with our students and their families.”
In addition, 11.6 percent of the budget funds purchased supplies and supplies used by the staff to support learning.
Finally, 5 percent of the school district budget goes to fund utilities and insurance. If you got a passing grade in arithmetic back in the day, you already know that adds up to 100 percent.
Additionally, Meeks and the school board want the public to know that, when the Colorado Legislature chose in 2009 during the depths of the Great Recession to reinterpret voter-approved Amendment 23, allocating less money to schools through a measure called “the negative factor,” the Steamboat Springs School District took a hit that has cost it $19 million over the past eight years.
It’s essential that taxpayers understand this year’s bond issue and mill levy increase are just the beginning — in the next few years, as the school district studies and fine-tunes the recommendations of CC4E, it will be back, seeking millions of dollars of additional funds to address a list of urgent projects, including adding science classrooms at the downtown high school, which they vow to keep where it is. Another project high on the list is adding a gymnasium to Strawberry Park Elementary in order to take pressure off the cafeteria that does triple duty as a gym and a performance stage.
We urge our readers to engage in the issues in this fall’s campaign of the bond issue and mill levy.
We all have an investment in our high-performing public schools.
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