Wednesday, August 4, 2004
Five months have passed since a bill threatening the Steamboat Springs School District's half-cent sales tax was defeated in the Colorado General Assembly's House Education Committee.
The fear that threat will return next legislative session is prompting school district and Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board officials to look at ways to distance the two entities.
On Wednesday, Education Fund Board members discussed possible changes to bylaws and organization that would, in effect, separate the city's public school system from the nonprofit group that allocates revenue from the half-cent city sales tax for education.
Suggested changes include shifting the responsibility for appointing Fund Board and Fund Board commission members from the School Board to the Steamboat Springs City Council. School Board member Tami Havener also suggested eliminating the School Board presence on the 13-member Fund Board, which includes four School Board members.
As the Education Fund Board is set up, its members and the members of its three advisory commissions are appointed by the School Board.
But many within the Fund Board and School Board agree any visible connection between the two groups increases the likelihood for another legislative threat to the concept of gifting city tax dollars to a public school district.
Colorado public school systems are not allowed to levy sales taxes for revenue.
A school finance bill proposed last March by House Majority Leader Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, included a one-sentence provision that would have banned all of the state's 178 school districts from accepting revenue from another governmental entity such as a city or county.
King said he added the provision to the bill after learning of the Steamboat Springs Education Fund because he felt it violated the equity sought through the Public School Finance Act and the state constitution's mandate to provide a thorough and uniform education for all students.
State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, amended King's bill to eliminate the one-sentence provision. Fellow lawmakers on the committee approved his amendment and the school finance bill eventually became law as amended.
But many within Steamboat's education community feel King added the provision because he was upset with the Steamboat Springs School District for refusing to follow a state Board of Education order to approve a Montessori charter school application.
Many of those people also think King or other lawmakers will renew their effort to block the school district from spending sales tax revenue when the Legislature reconvenes.
The Steamboat Springs Education Fund was created in 1993 after voters approved a ballot measure to add a half-cent city sales tax, for which the revenue would be spent on education. Voters have since extended the life of the sales tax on two occasions. The tax generates about $2 million annually.
The Education Fund Board, comprised mostly of community members, listens to and approves or rejects funding requests made by its three commissions, the Educational Excellence Commission, the Technology Commission and the Capital Commission. Any approved funding requests are gifted to the school district, which has the final say in whether it wants to accept the gifts.
The Fund Board will continue to discuss bylaw and other organizational changes at future meetings.
In other Fund Board news, a Capital Commission request for a $90,000 long-range facilities master plan for the Steamboat Springs School District was approved unanimously. The plan, which includes a demographic study, will guide future Fund Board spending, as well as assist the school district with long-range facility planning, Fund Board members said.
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