Recognizing that their constituents help fund Steamboat Springs' half-cent sales tax for education, South Routt School Board members want to get a piece of the action for their schools.
Although their thinking is justified on some levels, it also is short-sighted. If they really want to do something to help students in South Routt, we've got a bold challenge for them -- be the school board with the courage to open discussions about consolidating the county's three school districts. That, we think, holds more promise for the future of public education in Routt County than territorial debates about sharing sales tax dollars ever will.
The half-cent sales tax, which is dedicated to educational excellence, technology and capital needs in the Steamboat Springs School District, has long been a bone of contention. South Routt School Board members argue that their residents pay the tax by shopping and dining in Steamboat but don't see it spent in their children's schools. Hayden residents can make a similar argument.
Sounds reasonable, except for the equally logical arguments the Education Fund Board will offer against such sharing:
First, South Routt and Hayden have benefited greatly from a grant writer funded by the half-cent sales tax. That position already has generated more than $2 million in grant funding for the two districts.
Second, if revenue from the tax should be returned proportionately to all the people paying it, shouldn't a good chunk of it be stamped and sent off to the Texas Education Agency and the California Department of Education? After all, tourists from those states and others contribute significantly to the sales tax revenues.
Finally, it seems clear that such revenue sharing is not what voters approved in supporting the tax three times. Perhaps South Routt voters could demonstrate their commitment by instituting a similar half-cent tax in Yampa and Oak Creek. Putting up that earnest money could lead the Education Fund Board to look more favorably upon a proposal to share the funds collected in Steamboat.
But we think such a proposal is a parochial patch rather than a big-picture solution to looming educational challenges.
As long as Steamboat Springs continues to develop as a resort economy, it will lose, along with affordable housing, the working families who put children in local schools. More and more, those families will find themselves in South Routt and Hayden, bringing a new set of challenges to those districts.
The three districts could meet these challenges together by sharing not only Education Fund Board dollars, but also all resources that would be available to a unified Routt County School District. Such a district, with a focus on neighborhood schools managed by a geographically representative board, could allow each school to maintain its independence while pooling professional resources for the betterment of everyone.
The economic connection between Steamboat Springs and its neighbors to the west and south will continue to grow in the years to come, and the successful education of children in all three districts is vital to each community and the county as a whole. Long-term, fighting each other for a share of Fund Board or other dollars isn't likely to produce that success. But a consolidated school district that makes more efficient use of increasingly limited funds while allowing individual schools to retain their community focus certainly could.
Now there is a discussion worth having.