Our view: Communication essential | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Communication essential

At issue

County school boards’ response to a recent conflict with the Education Fund Board was poorly handled

Our view

The entire issue could have been avoided through honest communication

We were gratified to learn Thursday that Routt County school districts will accept the Partners in Routt County/AmeriCorps school-based mentor program onto their campuses next year after all.

At issue

County school boards’ response to a recent conflict with the Education Fund Board was poorly handled

We use the qualifier, “after all,” because continuation of the program had been thrown into serious doubt by two recent developments.

First, it was learned early this year that Partners had lost a large Office of Behavioral Health grant it relied upon to fund the mentor program, a loss exacerbated by increasing grant-matching amounts required by AmeriCorps.

Faced with these potentially program-ending developments, Partners first approached county school districts for funding and were turned down. The group then sought funding from the Education Fund Board, which initially approved the request, but acknowledged it was unsure where the funds would come from.

The grant commission eventually proposed funding the mentor program with $22,000 from unfunded community group allocations, $45,000 from projected sales tax revenue increases and $30,000 from money that would otherwise have been allocated to the three Routt County school districts.

It was the last amount that gave rise to a second roadblock and precipitated the conflict between the EFB and county school officials.

In a letter — delivered to the EFB last week only hours before it was to give final approval to Partners’ request — Steamboat Springs Superintendent Brad Meeks, Soroco Superintendent Darci Mohr and Hayden Superintendent Phil Kasper stated that, if the board opted to fund Partners’ request, Steamboat Springs School District would respond by dropping the mentor program, adding that Hayden and Soroco were “seriously considering” doing the same.

Our purpose here is not to argue the merits of the mentor program. Instead, we suggest the school districts’ response to the possibility of Partners receiving funds from “their” money was hasty, ill-conceived and potentially counter-productive.

Funding is tight everywhere, and in that light, we can understand the schools’ concerns about the possibility of money being syphoned from their allotments to fund Partners.

But viewed from a larger perspective, the $97,000 Partners requested is a relatively small chunk (just under 3 percent) of the EFD’s $3.5 million budget, $3.22 million of which had already been allocated to the districts. Furthermore, the entire issue might easily have been averted through the simple act of communication. Partners Executive Director Michelle Petix said as much during a Steamboat Springs School Board meeting last week.

“I’m sadly disappointed in how this process has worked,” Petix said. “I feel that Partners has been thrown under the proverbial school bus.”

Petix said the district had shown a decided lack of communication and lack of collaboration with Partners and had allowed it to be implied that the organization went behind the district’s back in seeking a grant from the Education Fund.

“We had no indication that this (grant request) would not be supported,” Petix said. “It’s troubling to me. A phone call, an email — someone couldn’t reach out and have this discussion?”

We agree completely.

In our view, the county’s school districts’ response — particularly with regard to the Steamboat Springs School District — plundered a wealth of political capital at a time they can ill-afford to alienate patrons.

Steamboat School District’s space issues and infrastructure needs remain, and there is little doubt addressing those issues and needs will, in the near future, require approaching voters with another bond issue — a proposition that will undoubtedly dwarf the $97,000 Partners requested.

This leaves us to wonder: Was it really worthwhile to generate so much discord and contention by issuing an ultimatum when — as evidenced by the quick agreement and resolution that followed — the entire issue could have been avoided through clear, honest communication from the beginning?

Disagreements will happen, particularly where the community purse strings are involved, but handling them with ultimatums rather than conversations does little to advance the districts’ long-term objectives and serves only to divide groups that essentially share the same goal — educating our children.

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