Our View: The tax King didn't get it

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The Steamboat Springs School Board's decision to reject a $265,000 gift from the Education Fund Board underscores the integrity of the Fund Board process.

The Fund Board administers proceeds from a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1993 and again in 1996 and 1999. The funds total about $2 million per year.

In March, state Rep. Keith King attacked the tax and unsuccessfully tried to ban it. King, the House majority leader, argued the tax gives Steamboat an advantage over poorer school districts and that Steamboat is skirting a state law barring districts from using sales tax to raise revenues. King implied the process is a sham and that the School Board, not the Fund Board, controls the sales tax dollars and uses them to enhance the district's bottom line.

That's just not the case, as the School Board's decision last week proves. The community initiated the tax and, through the Fund Board, controls how that money is spent. State law allows school districts to accept donations, gifts and grants as revenue.

Of course, the school district also can reject such gifts, as was the case when the board turned down the $265,000 for the purchase of the North Routt Community Charter School property.

The 3-year-old charter school in Clark is owned by a group of investors that bought the property in an effort to help the fledgling school but now can't afford the mortgage. The group is offering the property, which includes three buildings, for $365,000, though an appraisal put its value at $450,000. Historic Routt County has offered a $100,000 grant -- $20,000 per year for five years -- toward the purchase.

Members of the Capital Commission, a subcommittee of the Fund Board that makes capital recommendations, recommended the purchase in part because of the investment potential. In a split vote, the Fund Board decided to offer the gift to the district.

The School Board voted unanimously to reject the gift, citing problems such as the inability to charge rent to the charter school, long-term maintenance costs of the property, and the uncertain future of the charter school. The school recently lost its director and enrollment has declined to 19 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

We agree with the School Board. There is significant risk associated with buying the property. If the school closes any time in the next five years, the Historic Routt County grant would not be fulfilled, and the district would owe money on an asset it doesn't need. Also, given the financial challenges the district faces, surely there are more pressing needs that $265,000 could address.

There is the chance the Fund Board could acquire the property to help the charter school. We would not advocate such a purchase for the reasons cited above.

However, if the Fund Board does buy the property, it would further validate that the half-cent sales tax is used to enhance education of all area school children, not just to support the Steamboat school district's budget.

There are many who think King, a staunch supporter of charter schools, attacked the half-cent sales tax in retaliation for Steamboat's refusal to open a Montessori Charter School. Now, funds from the tax that King tried to eliminate may be used to save the area's only charter school.

How's that for irony and proof that King didn't get it when he came after Steamboat's half-cent sales tax?

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