Board will vote on funding

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— Many Steamboat Springs teachers and parents were thrilled two weeks ago when the Education Fund Board voted to approve funding for three additional elementary school teachers for the 2003-04 school year.

Their elation, however, may have been premature, depending on whether the Steamboat Springs Board of Education accepts the "gift" at tonight's meeting.

At its May 7 meeting, the Education Fund Board, a 13-member group responsible for doling out revenue from the city's half-cent sales tax for educational programs, projects and other needs, approved an Educational Excellence Commission funding request for three additional elementary school teachers.

At a cost of up to $147,000, the three additional teachers are intended to lower class sizes at the district's two elementary schools, where the schools' principals said enrollment in some classes may reach 25 and 26 students next year.

The Fund Board, charged with the task of approving or rejecting funding requests from each of its three commissions, debated the smaller class size request at considerable length over the course of this year's funding cycle.

Following further discussion, including impassioned pleas by numerous teachers and parents at the May 7 meeting, the Fund Board approved the measure. The three dissenting votes came from Fund Board members Paul Fisher, Tom Sharp and Tom Ptach.

Each Fund Board-approved request must be submitted to the School Board as a gift. The School Board must vote to accept the gift before it can become a reality.

Fisher and Sharp also serve as School Board members.

Both argued that the school district has the flexibility to allocate teachers between schools to satisfy class size goals and that the district currently is meeting its policy goal of an average of 20 students per teacher.

Sharp also said he is against spending more money on additional teachers to lower class sizes until allocating district resources has run its course.

On Thursday, Fisher said adding teachers at an economically unstable period might not be in the district's best interests.

Technically, the teachers are a one-year gift, Fisher said. But, he said, the history of Fund Board gifts shows that many gifts "become institutionalized."

"The fear -- for those against (adding three teachers) -- is that we'll add these teachers and they'll be institutionalized in a time of economic crisis," Fisher said. "It is fiscally inappropriate to be adding teachers when the fiscal outlook is of future cuts. That is one perspective."

The district, which recently announced it will need to cut up to $500,000 from next year's budget, hopes cutting teachers will not be necessary, Fisher said.

Fund Board and School Board members Tami Havener and Pat Gleason voted for the three-teacher request. If Fisher, Sharp, Havener and Gleason vote tonight as they did as Fund Board members, the deciding vote will fall on School Board member Paula Stephenson's shoulders.

Stephenson could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Among the other Fund Board gifts the School Board will vote to accept tonight are funding for content standards staff and training, $5,000 to assist parent funding for an elementary Spanish program, $138,000 for computer hardware and replacement, $312,500 for district technology staff and $35,000 for the Marmot Community Library program.

Also on tonight's agenda, the School Board will decide on and announce the district's Teacher of the Year. A teacher nominee from each of the district's four schools will interview with board members before the board declares a winner. Middle school science teacher Brad Kindred was last year's Teacher of the Year.

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