Class-size request goes before board

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Not dead yet.

Two weeks after the Steamboat Springs Board of Education turned down an Education Fund Board gift to reduce class sizes at the district's two elementary schools, a revised small-class-size request will appear before the Fund Board tonight.

The Educational Excellence Commission, one of three commissions that make funding recommendations to the Fund Board, voted Monday night to recommend funding two elementary school teachers for the 2003-04 school year. The cost of the request will be $98,000.

The commission will present the request at tonight's Fund Board meeting. If approved by the 13-member Fund Board, the two-teacher "gift" probably will be offered to the School Board at its June 16 meeting.

On May 19, the School Board voted against accepting a Fund Board gift for three elementary school teachers. At that meeting, board President Paul Fisher said he would have a hard time adding district staff when other positions are being eliminated due to the district's deficit.

Fisher and board member Paula Stephenson also said they were concerned the gift would become institutionalized, in that the district would have to pick up the teachers salaries in future years. Board member Tami Havener and others in the audience countered that the district has no obligation to continue funding those teaching positions past the first year.

The Fund Board allocates the city's half-cent sales tax to education-related programs and projects. The Fund Board votes to accept funding recommendations for specific projects and programs from its three commissions. If approved, the funding is presented to the School Board as a gift. The School Board must accept the gift if it is to take effect.

The School Board's May 19 refusal of the three-teacher gift marked just the second time in Fund Board history that the School Board has rejected one of its gifts.

By dropping the numbers of teachers in the request from three to two, the request might be more acceptable to the School Board, Educational Excellence Commission chairman Paul Sachs said.

Fisher declined Tuesday to predict whether the School Board would approve a two-teacher gift.

Because the Educational Excellence Commission is recommending funding two teachers instead of three, $49,000 in half-cent sales tax revenue is left unallocated.

The commission also will recommend that $49,000 be gifted to the district to bolster the Fund Board's traditional half-funding of small class sizes.

Typically, the Fund Board gifts $350,000 to the district to help defray salary costs the district has incurred from increasing its number of teachers to reduce class sizes across the district.

Small class size was a key issue for the community when it voted to pass the half-cent sales tax.

If the $49,000 gift is approved by the Fund Board and accepted by the School Board, district revenue will increase by $49,000, which will decrease the amount of district deficit, and hence, the number of personnel cuts to be recommended by Superintendent Cyndy Simms at the School Board's June 16 meeting.

Simms' preliminary budget-cutting recommendations included $208,000 in personnel cuts.

The Educational Excellence Commission also will request funding from Fund Board reserves for a district grant-writer. The grant-writing position, traditionally funded by the Fund Board, has been responsible for bringing millions of dollars in grants to Routt County school districts.

Fisher said the School Board probably will look favorably on the Educational Excellence Commission's three requests.

"I would sense that all of those things are moves in the right direction as far as the (School) Board is concerned," Fisher said.

Fisher said the School Board will act quickly if the three requests are approved by the Fund Board because of the time constraints for hiring the additional teachers and the ramifications a $49,000 gift would have on the district's budget cuts.

Simms said a $49,000 gift to district revenue would eliminate the need for some of the personnel cuts she recommended at Monday's School Board meeting.

"That would be a great help," Simms said of the proposed funding request.

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