Steamboat school board approves staff bonuses, hears updates on budget, distance learning
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs School Board unanimously approved Monday the disbursement of one-time bonuses to all district employees from the revenues generated by a new mill levy, approved by voters in November 2019, to provide wage and benefit increases for teachers and staff.
For the 2020-21 school year, those additional funds will become pay raises, with details yet to be negotiated through the collective bargaining process, which is currently on hold.
Excluding the superintendent, district employees will receive an average bonus of $3,276 for the year. The total amount collected for one-time bonus disbursement was about $1.43 million.
Budget outlook changes
Monday’s meeting also included an update on the school district’s 2020-21 budget.
“Obviously, things have changed,” said Finance Director Mark Rydberg.
In addition to a decrease in funding from the Education Fund Board, which is collected through a half-cent sales tax, the state’s per-pupil funding formula faces a possible reduction, Rydberg said.
Colorado lawmakers are predicting at least a $750 million deficit to the state’s budget as a result of the COVID-19 closures and resulting unemployment.
State funding also will be dependent on next year’s student enrollment, another unknown number at this time. Rydberg said the district is budgeting for the student count to remain flat going into the 2020-21 school year.
Rydberg gave different potential scenarios with the reduction in the current $8,461 per-pupil funding ranging anywhere from $115 per pupil to $460.
There is federal stimulus money that could have a positive impact on the budget, Rydberg said, however the amount is another unknown at this time.
Rydberg said he is already working with district staff to put a hold on some expenses, such as purchasing a new bus and other capital spending, and finding creative ways to reposition existing staff to cover holes.
Many of the items requested from the Education Fund Board falling under the program enhancement category likely won’t be covered for next year, he said, which includes things like additional programming for gifted and talented students, behavioral therapy and a biliteracy program.
There are some current expense reductions due to the school closure, Rydberg said, such as not needing to pay substitute teachers.
Distance learning update
During an update on distance learning, Steamboat Springs Superintendent Brad Meeks said the district had distributed about 440 computers to students across the district and are delivering about 500 meals per day.
Jay Hamric, director of teaching and learning, began his update by thanking the entire community for the time, energy and sacrifices being made to make distant learning work.
Hamric noted the efforts being made by staff to also meet the social-emotional needs of students.
Hamric talked about the inequities the distance learning process has revealed and the work that is underway to “reach all kids and not leave any kids or families behind.”
Every family situation is unique right now, he said, with some needing more support than others.
Getting the kindergarten through second graders online with the distance learning has been more challenging, he said, given the need for more parental support at younger ages.
He said about 10% of the student body isn’t currently well-connected to the distance learning program, but that 90% is “amazing.” The district is actively reaching out to that remaining 10%.
Hamric said another balancing act has been figuring out the appropriate workload to give students — something the district continues to refine based on student and parent feedback.
Because instructional time has been shortened, Hamric said teachers have been asked to prioritize essential skills, standards and concepts.
Hamric also noted there will be communication next school year in terms of content that may have been missed and needs to be reintroduced.
In terms of silver linings, board member Chresta Brinkman observed some students who may be less inclined to speak up during class are benefiting from more individualized instruction.
Hamric noted that as difficult as the current situation is, he also sees a number of silver linings in terms of everything the district is learning about improving the delivery of education.
Board member Kim Brack said one thing she was hearing from constituents, as well as in her own experience regarding high school students, was a desire to meet more often virtually. She said high school students are meeting online just once week for each class.
“I can’t overstate the emotional value of kids connecting,” she said.
Hamric acknowledged another area of balance between asynchronous learning — lessons and assignments kids do on their own — versus synchronous learning — the live time spent with the teacher and other students.
No decision made on graduation
The board also discussed graduation. Brinkman said she hears a preference for postponing the event for when it can happen in person versus a virtual graduation.
Meeks noted that for a virtual graduation on the originally planned date of May 30 to happen, the planning process has to begin very soon. Hamric noted postponing later into the summer might exclude some families from participating. But both acknowledged that an in-person ceremony — whenever that may be able to happen — is without a doubt the preference.
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