Sunday, February 18, 2001
Steamboat Springs Two years into his tenure, Gov. Bill Owens came to Steamboat Springs touting his plan for education. It is a plan that he says will "not just throw money at the problems," but hold schools accountable for how they use that money.
With state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, in tow, along with U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, Owens spoke Saturday to a group of concerned educators and a boisterous crowd of Routt County Republicans.
Owens has taken some heat from educators and students who feel that the Colorado Student Assessment Program testing has changed education in the state for the worse, moving the focus of learning toward test preparation. The governor, however, sees the test as a way to ensure that schools are held accountable and to ensure that students from all school districts in Colorado are learning at the same pace.
He said calling the test "high-stakes" qualifies as a misnomer.
"We are not setting schools up to fail," Owens said. "The bottom line is some of our schools need to be improved."
He said that schools will not be "closed down" due to their performance on the tests, though failing schools that do not show marked improvement may have a change in their administration.
And while the governor is not "throwing money" at education, he said he has beefed up the state's education budget over the past three years, fully funding Colorado's schools all three years to the tune of about $600 million in new funding each year an objective that had not been accomplished in a decade.
Concerns about money hovered over the governor's meeting with local educators Saturday, many of whom were supportive of the CSAP testing but said they needed more funds to meet their goals.
Steamboat school board member Tom Sharp brought up the recent controversy over district salaries, which teachers claim have not kept up with the cost of living in Steamboat. He said the "cost of living index" that gets factored into the state-enforced finance formula to account for increases in local prices may not be high enough in Steamboat. Steamboat's cost of living index did not receive any increase this year over last year, despite local increases in the cost of housing and other basic necessities as calculated by the Steamboat Chamber Resort Association.
"We're not sure it has been applied accurately and well in these (resort) communities," Sharp said.
White and Taylor echoed Sharp's concerns.
"When you use the CPI from Boulder and Denver it doesn't reflect what's going on in these recreation communities at all," Taylor said.
White said the cost-of-living issue is at the top of his agenda at the capitol.
Owens said money would soon be coming to the district in the form of Amendment 23 dollars. That money, which district representatives worried would arrive with strings attached, will be given to Routt County's districts to do as they wish, Owens said. Bigger districts will be held accountable for all the money they receive if that money does not go toward the few specific issues (such as reducing class sizes) for which the state has earmarked the money, he said.