Steamboat Springs District wants to form own district to provide special services |

Steamboat Springs District wants to form own district to provide special services

These services are currently provided by the Northwest Colorado BOCES, which includes districts in Moffat, Routt, Grand and Jackson counties.

The Steamboat Springs School District tried to leave the Northwest BOCES in 2013, but that attempt was not approved by the Colorado Department of Education. (Photo by John F. Russell)

The Steamboat Springs School District is pursuing becoming its own administrative unit, leaving the Northwest Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which currently serves districts in four counties including Routt.

This is the second time the district has tried such a move. In 2013, it unsuccessfully tried to leave the BOCES, which currently manages and staffs many of the special education programs for the districts.

That attempt was rejected by the state, but Superintendent Brad Meeks, who led that effort, said several other districts similar to Steamboat — Aspen and Summit — got waivers in years after, and he is optimistic about this attempt.

If approved by the state Department of Education, this would put the district in charge of special education programs. Currently, the district works with the BOCES to provide school psychologists, therapists and those to assist deaf, hard of hearing or visually impaired students.

The reason Meeks has for the move this time is the same as the last: He believes the district could provide these services more efficiently than they are currently provided.

“A lot of times, districts get to a certain size, like ours, and it just seems to be more efficient for us to be in charge of our own programs,” Meeks said during a Board of Education workshop last week.

The talks have been revived in recent weeks, and Meeks said he has talked with various superintendents and education officials across the state, and he said people seem to understand why the district wants to make this change and are not necessarily apposed to it.

This has included talks with the Hayden and South Routt school districts, Meeks said. Both districts indicated an interest in continuing to cooperate with Steamboat to provide these services, Meeks said.

“There are pros and cons both ways,” Hayden School District Superintendent Christy Sinner said. “We have a couple different options. We could stay with the BOCES as it is now, or if it is beneficial, we could join with the administrative unit of Steamboat and be like a Routt County administrative unit.”

It is still early in the process, and Sinner said there are still a lot of unknowns that will need to be discussed. Meeks said last time, the application was longer than 90 pages. They need to submit the application in September, and then the state has 60 days to review it. Meeks said he anticipates an answer in December sometime, and then either the district or the BOCES could appeal the decision.

“Really optimizing that special education programming piece is really what we would be doing (and) increasing outcomes for students with disabilities,” said Anne-Marie Williams, director of exceptional student services for the district.

Chris Eberhardt, executive director of the Northwest BOCES, said it is really important this process be transparent and considers all the districts involved, as there will likely be a larger effect on smaller districts if Steamboat leaves.

“We have to have a mutually beneficial outcome here, and serving students is a primary goal and fiscally responsible to the needs of our member districts and make sure that we honor that,” Eberhardt said.

Steamboat Board President Kelly Latterman said to her leaving the BOCES would clearly be best for students in the district, but to her, it seems like it would have significant negative effects on other districts.

“This is either going to happen in six months, or it is going to happen in a few years,” Eberhardt said. “My goal would be to make sure that we take everybody’s temperature and make sure that it is fiscally responsible.”

There will be a third-party financial review of the impacts of the district leaving both on the district and BOCES itself. Currently, money goes right to BOCES, but if it was to leave, that money would come right to Steamboat. It would use that to run the programs and hire the providers itself.

BOCES has been the same model for decades, Meeks said. This could be an opportunity to create a new model for how these services could be provided, for both the district and for the other schools in BOCES.

The board did not make any decisions last week, but none of the board members signaled any opposition to the move.

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