District to share wish list

Fund Board begins budget process

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— For the Steamboat Springs School District, the holiday season is the time to ask for presents -- presents the district can't open until March.

At a meeting of the Education Fund Board on Tuesday, school district Superintendent Donna Howell will present a wish list of 19 items to the Fund Board, an 11-member citizen group that determines how to spend more than $2 million in annual revenues from a voter-approved half-cent sales tax to fund educational needs in Steamboat Springs.

The items Howell will present will include educational programs and projects, the salaries of certain district positions and other financial holes that district officials hope the Fund Board will fill.

The district's Leadership Team, which consists of How--ell, the four building principals, Director of Operations and Finance Dale Mellor and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Ann Sims, created the list of funding recommendations after more than two months of research and gathering community input.

"We looked at what was funded last year and at what is needed to continue implementing the Strategic Plan," Howell said, referring to a plan she calls the district's "road map" for the next five years.

That plan was created with information from community forums, facility studies, school accountability goals and audits of the district's curriculum, technology and communications policies.

Howell would not specify what the 19 items are, preferring to save the information for Tuesday's meeting.

In recent weeks, members of the School Board have discussed expanding foreign language instruction and hiring an auditor to examine special education services. Howell has said the Education Fund Board would be a good source of money for those programs.

Education Fund Board Pres--ident Robin Crossan said the district's recommendations are just that -- recommendations.

"We're not bound to do any of it," she said. "We're just asking them to give us some direction and tell us what their needs are."

And not all funding requests approved by the Fund Board have to be accepted by the school district. The School Board must vote to accept a funding gift from the Fund Board before that item can take effect.

The Fund Board will hold a series of discussions during the winter in hopes of finalizing its budget for the 2006-07 school year in March.

A new look

Tuesday's meeting also will include the Fund Board's annual information session for the public. The session will outline the board's structure, procedures and policies.

"We have a meeting once a year to let the public know where we're at," Crossan said.

This year, the Fund Board is in a different place than it has been in previous years.

The board now has 11 members instead of 13. Fund Board members decided last month to reduce the number of School Board members on their board from four to two. The seats formerly occupied by past School Board members Paula Stephenson and Michael Loomis were eliminated and will not be filled, Howell said.

School Board member Pat Gleason will continue to serve on the Fund Board. The other School Board representative has not been decided, but Howell said it likely will be board President Tom Miller-Freutel or new board member Denise Connelly.

Howell said the reduced School Board representation should not be an issue.

"We have a partnership (with the Fund Board)," Howell said. "To me, it isn't critical whether there are two or four School Board members -- it doesn't make that much of a difference."

The decision to decrease the School Board presence was made partly in response to a legal challenge to the half-cent sales tax. Last year, state Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, questioned the Steamboat Springs School District's right to receive funds from sales tax revenues.

King did not understand that the Fund Board is separate from the school district, Howell said. Howell and other district and Fund Board officials traveled to Denver to lobby against King's challenge to the sales tax. With the help of state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, their lobbying was successful.

"I believe there were some misunderstandings we cleared up when we went down there," Howell said. "We do not feel that threat is going to be brought forward again."

Having two fewer School Board members on the Fund Board and "tightening up" the Fund Board's accounting procedures will help clarify the separate roles of the Fund Board and the school district, Howell said.

Two gifts on the table

On Tuesday, the Fund Board will vote on a final reading for two funding requests. One would give the school district $155,000 to pay the salaries of six employees hired in September. The hires were made because of higher-than-anticipated student enrollment, Crossan said. The positions include a full-time teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School, a full-time aide for English Language Learners, three full-time instructional aides at Strawberry Park Elementary School and one full-time instructional aide at Soda Creek Elementary School.

The second allocation would give about $8,500 to the district's transportation department to purchase two digital recorders and video cameras for all 14 district school buses.

"It's something that's been kicked around for quite a while," Transportation Director Ed Dingledine said.

"We had a few incidents on the buses regarding student behavior, some of them kind of serious, and we thought it would be a good idea."

Those incidents involved students hitting other students, he said.

"That's something we absolutely can't tolerate on a bus -- we don't talk about just transportation, we talk about safe transportation," Dingledine said.

The cameras would not record at all times, and the digital recorders would be used as needed.

"We have a situational need," he said. "When we see a problem on a bus, we'll be able to put a camera in there and see what's going on."

"I don't like the idea of having to do surveillance on children, but sometimes it's necessary," he said.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or email mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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