Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs Board of Education voted Monday against an Education Fund Board gift that would have provided three additional elementary school teachers for the 2003-04 school year.
The 2-2 School Board vote was met with criticism from dozens of district teachers and parents in attendance at Monday's meeting. A tie vote is the equivalent of a failed vote. Board member Tom Sharp wasn't present for the meeting, but would have voted against the measure, board President Paul Fisher said.
"There's a lot of great ideas out there on how to do better education," Fisher said at the meeting. "But it does not make sense to me to be cutting staff and adding (staff). It's a tough decision, but in my mind, it's a financially irresponsible time to accept this gift."
The district plans to cut up to $500,000 from next year's budget because of declining state and local revenue and decreasing enrollment. Superintendent Cyndy Simms said last week that district personnel cuts would be inevitable.
The three-teacher gift, at a cost of $147,000, was intended to lower class sizes next year at both Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools. Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis said he expects some of his fifth-grade classes will have up to 26 students next year.
At the meeting, DeVincentis told the School Board he couldn't understand how a smaller class size proposal that was approved by the district's administrative team, including Simms, could be voted down by the School Board.
Fisher and board member Paula Stephenson, who both voted against the measure, said they were concerned the gift would become institutionalized, meaning the district would end up paying the three teachers' salaries in future years. That institutionalization already has occurred with the smaller-class-size issue, Fisher said.
Board member Tami Havener, who voted in favor of accepting the gift, disagreed with Fisher and Stephenson.
"Small class size means a big, big difference to kids," Havener said. "I don't see it as being institutionalized. I see it as a gift for this one year."
There are no Fund Board or School Board policies that mandate teachers hired through Fund Board gifts be retained after their first year with the district.
Having three additional teachers, even if for only one year, can make a world of difference to students, Havener said.
"I think it matters to that child, in that small class size, for at least a year," Havener said, prompting the applause of many in the audience.
Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris echoed Havener's statement.
"Had we received this funding tonight, our class sizes would have been awesome, and it would have been for one year," Harris said. "Even if for one year, it makes a difference."
Education at the elementary schools would continue to improve, regardless of Monday's decision, Harris said.
Like Havener, board member Pat Gleason voted to accept the gift.
"I'm going to go in favor of it. It is a gift, but I look at it as it's the last year of the gift," Gleason said. Institutionalizing gifts is not part of the Fund Board philosophy, he said.
Fisher didn't rule out the possibility of the smaller-class-size gift coming back to the School Board in a different form this funding cycle. The Educational Excellence Commission and the Fund Board could approve a revised gift request, such as one teacher instead of three, Fisher said. He didn't say whether the School Board would accept such a request.
The Fund Board approved the smaller-class-size request at its May 7 meeting after discussing the request at length during the multi-month Fund Board budgeting process.
Monday's gift refusal marks only the second time since the Fund Board's inception that a gift to the School Board has been rejected.
The School Board tabled a vote to decide whether to accept a $5,000 Fund Board gift to help pay for an elementary Spanish program.
All other Fund Board gifts up for approval Monday were accepted by the School Board, including $273,000 for content standards staff and training, $350,000 for the traditional "half-funding" of small class sizes, $35,000 for the second phase of a district network upgrade, $138,000 for computer hardware and replacement, $312,500 for technology staffing and $35,000 to continue the Marmot Community Library database system.
Resignations were accepted for numerous district employees, including:
n High school language arts teacher James Van Loenen
n High school math teacher Megan Hitchcock
n Middle school severe-needs teacher Karen Crowe
n Middle school employee Belinda Taylor
n Middle school math aide Nikolai Ferrell
n Soda Creek employee Lee Cosgrove
n Soda Creek employee Lee Thompson
n Soda Creek aide Cassandra Ripkoski
n Soda Creek employee Jennifer Wolfersberger
n Strawberry Park employee Philip Gudlewski