Class-size question looms

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Larger class sizes or significant program changes could be in store for the Steamboat Springs School District depending on how much funding it receives from the Education Fund Board.

The news came as a surprise to some Fund Board members Wednesday night, when they were told that the School Board's class-size policy is contingent upon the district receiving at least $350,000 a year toward teacher salaries from the Fund Board.

The district's "Educational Program" policy reads that the superintendent "may not fail to ensure" that the ratio of certified staff to students is not greater than 20 to 1 as long as the Fund Board gives the district at least $350,000 each year to maintain that ratio.

"I think it's really odd the School Board would adopt measures like that without telling the Fund Board," Fund Board member Jerry Kozatch said. "I had no idea they had any kind of policy based on getting this (money)."

School Board member Michael Loomis brought the policy to the Fund Board's attention, but he was not on the School Board when the policy was written to include that provision.

Historically, the Fund Board, which allocates revenue from the city's half-cent sales tax for education, has provided money to the district to lower class sizes. Smaller class sizes were a major campaign point on all three occasions when voters approved the half-cent sales tax since 1993.

But exactly how much the Fund Board provides the school district for the purpose of offsetting the cost of decreasing class sizes across the district has been a point of contention the past couple of years. Some district officials and School Board members have said the Fund Board should provide at least half the cost of the 22 teachers hired since the sales tax was approved.

The Fund Board has provided much less than half that cost, which last year totaled nearly $1.1 million, according to a spreadsheet prepared by district Finance Director Dale Mellor.

On Wednesday night the Fund Board's Educational Excellence Commission presented $750,000 in funding requests for the 2004-05 school year, including $399,000 for small class sizes.

The commission's No. 1 request is for a $328,000 content standards package that includes the salary of Content Standards Director Kelly Stanford and four half-time teachers on special assignment. Staff development makes up $110,000 of that request.

Second on the commission's prioritized list are small class sizes. But the request is broken into two sections. The first section, for $221,480, falls within the $550,000 the commission has been guaranteed. The commission hopes the second section, for $177,520, is approved from an unallocated pool of between $200,000 and $350,000 for which all three Fund Board commissions are competing. In total, the Fund Board will allocate about $1.9 million this year.

Fund Board member Carol Comeau asked Kozatch what would happen if the commission isn't granted the $177,520 section of the small class size request.

"If the Fund Board decides not to give the gift of $177,000, that is approximately three teachers (salaries)," Kozatch said. "What will happen is that it will either change the class sizes or the district will have to come up with it."

Loomis said that because of the language of the district policy, "all bets are off" if a total of $350,000 isn't provided to the district for small class sizes. The result could be the loss of at least three teachers if the district wasn't able to provide the necessary funds.

Superintendent Donna Howell said the result likely would be program changes or larger class sizes.

The Fund Board will decide how much money to provide each commission at its March 24 meeting. Each commission will need approval on each of its requests before those funds can be gifted to the school district.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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