Our View: Vote 'yes' on 3C

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Make no mistake - Routt County Referendum 3C is an initiative brought about as much by political convenience as by thoughtful analysis.

Nonetheless, we believe the funds the referendum would generate, if used properly, will improve education in the Steamboat Springs School District. Therefore, we urge district voters to support it.

Referendum 3C asks for $600,000 to attract and retain "quality educational staff." The mill levy override's revenues will increase by $25,000 a year for eight years, maxing out at $800,000 in 2015.

The money that would be generated by the override is not a calculated sum to address specific district needs. Rather, the override revenue is equal to what voters have been paying to retire debt on construction of Steamboat Springs Middle School. That debt will be retired this year. So instead of realizing a decrease in property taxes next year, taxpayers would continue to pay about the same rate.

The School Board has said override funds will be divided into three categories, each related to teacher and staff salaries. After the board made that commitment, the referendum received the endorsement of the Steamboat Springs Education Association, which represents teachers and staff in collaborative bargaining.

Here is how the board says the funds will be used:

- $210,000 will be spent to bring salaries of all teachers and support staff to the mean of what those same employees would be paid in nine comparable districts. This is a critical step that we wholeheartedly endorse.

- $240,000 will be used to keep salaries competitive in future years.

- The remaining $150,000 is earmarked for other attraction and retention methods, including relocation expenses for incoming teachers and housing allowances.

We believe the $240,000 sum is significant. It will give the district great flexibility to take innovative steps to bring top teachers to Steamboat and keep them here.

Some things the district can and should do with this money:

- Negotiate better health benefits for teachers and support staff.

- Explore innovative assistance programs to help teachers and staff get into the local housing market.

- Eliminate the punitive policy that credits teachers for no more than six years' experience in other districts. As long as this policy is in place, Steamboat can only hope to attract the best teachers with six or fewer years of experience.

The Steamboat Springs School District is one of the best in the state, but our community's high cost of living makes it difficult for the district to compete in the job market, especially when school systems similar to Steamboat pay their teachers more. The mill levy override can go a long way toward eliminating this competitive disadvantage.

We would be remiss not to mention that negotiations between the School Board and the Steamboat Springs Education Association rarely go smoothly. It would be a shame for the allocation of these dollars to get mired in a messy bargaining process next year. By endorsing Referendum 3C, the association's members have sent a message to the voters that they approve of the School Board's plans for the money. It would be disingenuous for the association to go back on its word when it comes time to split up the pie.

Students are always the bottom line in the education business. Ultimately, Referendum 3C will benefit them. Vote "yes" on Nov. 7.

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