The largest crowd to attend an Education Fund Board meeting since the board's inception in 1993 got what it wanted Wednesday -- Fund Board approval for smaller class sizes.
But whether three additional elementary school teachers become a reality is still in the hands of the Steamboat Springs School Board, which must vote to accept the Fund Board's teacher "gift."
Wednesday's meeting marked the first major round of second reading requests from the Fund Board's three commissions. Under the revised setup of the Fund Board, each of its commissions -- the Educational Excellence Commission, the Technology Commission and the Capital Commission -- was allocated a certain amount of projected half-cent sales tax revenue based upon initial commission requests, called first readings. The allocation was completed in March.
Because each commission was allocated less money than it requested in its first readings, each commission was forced to determine which requests it wanted to bring back to the Fund Board for second -- and final -- approval and how the amounts of those requests needed to be adjusted.
The Fund Board is responsible for allocating the city's half-cent sales tax revenue to district educational programs and projects.
The Educational Excellence Commission brought before the Fund Board four second reading requests Wednesday, including one for smaller elementary class size.
The smaller elementary class size request called for full funding of three teachers in order to reduce elementary class sizes. The total cost of the request was $147,000.
Two of the proposed teachers would be hired for Soda Creek Elementary and one for Strawberry Park Elementary, where Principal John DeVincentis said next year's three fifth grade classes will have a minimum of 25 students.
DeVincentis, Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris and numerous teachers and parents attended Wednesday's meeting to support the Educational Excellence Commission request.
"This isn't a building. These are people who are interacting with kids," DeVincentis said in support of the teacher request. "That's the biggest, greatest gift you can give to these kids."
Following a lengthy discussion among Fund Board members and the audience, the Fund Board voted to approve the request. Fund Board members Tom Sharp, Paul Fisher and Tom Ptach dissented.
Sharp and Fisher, who both also serve as School Board members, argued that the district is meeting its policy goal of a ratio of 20 students per teacher.
Sharp and Fisher said the district has the flexibility to allocate teachers between schools in order to satisfy class-size goals.
Sharp said he is against spending more money on additional teachers to lower class sizes until allocating district resources has run its course.
The long-term financial impact of the additional teachers on the school district also was a concern expressed by some Fund Board members.
Sharp and Fisher's dissension could be significant when the smaller class-size issue comes before the School Board. All Fund Board-approved funding requests must be presented to the School Board as a gift, and the School Board must accept the gift. Only once since the Fund Board's inception has the school board refused a gift. Like Sharp and Fisher, School Board members Tami Havener and Pat Gleason are also Fund Board members. Havener and Gleason approved the smaller class size request. If Sharp, Fisher, Havener and Gleason vote as School Board members like they voted as Fund Board members, then the deciding vote on whether to accept the three teacher gift will hinge upon the vote of School Board member Paula Stephenson, who is not a Fund Board member.
It was unclear as of press time when the School Board will vote to accept the smaller class size gift, but the decision could come as soon as the May 19 board meeting.
In other Fund Board news, the board voted to approve funding $273,000 for content standards staff and training, $350,000 for traditional "half-funding" of small class-size maintenance and $5,000 for an elementary Spanish program being piloted at both district elementary schools.
In total, all $775,000 allocated to the Educational Excellence Commission was approved on second readings Wednesday. However, the commission was forced to make some difficult decisions, including not recommending a two-teacher reserve, not funding a grant-writer position and cutting content standards training funding.
"In our best judgment, we though having the extra teacher was the big thing," commission member Jerry Kozatch said.
The Technology Commission had numerous second readings approved-in-full by the Fund Board, including $5,000 for the Accelerated Reader Program, $138,000 for hardware and hardware replacement, $312,500 for staff and $35,000 for the Marmot Community Library program. Only $35,000 of a $50,000 network upgrade request was approved, though the remaining $15,000 could be approved after the Fund Board collects rescissions.
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