S. Routt softens tax stance

School Board not interested in legal challenge, wants to discuss issue

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The South Routt School Board isn't interested in legally challenging a sales tax that primarily benefits Steamboat Springs students, board members said Thursday.

Still, the School Board reiterated its commitment to approaching the Education Fund Board to discuss why Steamboat's half-cent sales tax for education should be shared with other Routt County districts.

"I do feel that this tax might be vulnerable to a legal challenge, but my concern is that could make it go away," Superintendent Steve Jones said at Thursday's School Board meeting. "If we win, the students in Steamboat lose, and we don't want that.

"If we win, it's not like we're going to get any of this (tax revenue). It's going to go away."

Any legal challenge likely would call into question the ability of the Steamboat Springs School District to accept money from the sales tax. Colorado public schools are not allowed to levy sales taxes for additional revenue. All state schools are funded on a per-pupil basis that aims at equity for all students.

School Board members agreed with Jones' stance.

"I'm not in favor of any legal action," board President Hank deGanahl said.

But there remains board support for a conversation between it and the Fund Board, the nonprofit group that distributes $2 million in annual sales tax revenue to the Steamboat Springs School District.

"I think we owe it to the people to go the Fund Board and show our concerns," board member Rodney Wilson said.

Tim Corrigan, one of the most outspoken School Board members on the issue, said the board needs to play politics when it comes to the sales tax. Corrigan said he thinks there's a great deal of sympathy throughout the county for the South Routt and Hayden school districts as it relates to Steamboat's sales tax.

At issue is whether the Fund Board should share some of the $2 million in annual half-cent sales tax revenue with the South Routt and Hayden school districts. The sales tax, which was approved by Steamboat voters three times since 1993, is applicable only within Steamboat's city limits. Fund Board members have argued that Steamboat voters approved the tax specifically to benefit their students, not those who attend other county schools. Some Fund Board members have said any change in how their group distributes the revenue would have to come from the voters.

South Routt School Board members have said the sales tax has been a bone of contention for years in their part of the county. South Routt residents work and shop in Steamboat, contributing to the sales tax revenue without seeing any of it go to their schools and students.

Fund Board members said some tax revenue does go to the other districts. The Fund Board spends about $60,000 a year on a grants writer who secures grants for all three county school districts. The grants writer has secured more than $2 million in grants for the South Routt and Hayden school districts during the past several years.

Corrigan said the sales tax hurts the South Routt School District by fueling a perception that Steamboat's schools offer a better education.

"We're losing students to Steamboat because of the perception they have better programs than we do," Corrigan said. "We're paying with our own tax dollars to degrade our school system. That's insanity."

Jones disagreed with Cor--rigan's assessment that the district's declining enrollment is because families are transferring their students to Steamboat schools.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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