Education Fund Board gifts $3 million

Small-class size and changes in district technology warrant substantial gifts

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— The Education Fund Board has approved the gifting of more than $3 million to help the Steamboat Springs School District preserve small-class size and to revamp its aging technology system.

Nearly every individual item the Educational Excellence, Technology and Capital commissions hoped to have funded for the 2007-08 school year were approved at a Fund Board meeting held earlier this month.

A total of $3.141 million in programs, staff salaries and materials will be gifted by the Fund Board to the Steamboat Springs School District for district approval at either the School Board's May or June meeting.

The Fund Board administers the city's half-cent sales tax for education, but all expenditures are gifts to the district. The School Board decides whether to accept a gift or turn it down.

The Fund Board has budgeted $3.216 million in expenditures for the 2007-08 school year, meaning members have approved second readings for nearly every individual item wanting - or needing - money for next year.

Unlike previous years, the Technology Commission - the Fund Board has three commissions to help prioritize funding items - presented requests totaling $1.27 million, which was approved May 2.

District technology director Tim Miles is moving Steamboat to a Citrix system, so he had substantial requests for new hardware, software and training.

The only question that surfaced during the second readings for the technology requests was Fund Board member Tom Ptach's continued concern about the Fund Board paying staff salaries, such as the technology director, instead of the district. If the district absorbed all its salaries, it would enable the Fund Board focus on funding extras.

"The district has to figure out how to pull staff into its budget," said Fund Board President Robin Crossan. "We've been talking about it for three or four years."

Crossan noted that the district absorbed the salary of the circulation and instruction director position two years ago. In exchange, the Educational Excellence asked the Fund Board to pay for more teachers, which the Fund Board did.

Preserving small-class size remains a priority for the Fund Board. At its meeting earlier this month, the Fund Board approved gifting $800,000 - the equivalent of 16 full-time teachers - for small-class size. It was the largest request this year.

In total, the Fund Board gifted $1.476 million to Educational Excellence prioritized items. Other Educational Excellence items the Fund Board approved readings for were $155,000 for the English as a Second Language Program, $215,000 for the expansion of the Gifted and Talented program, $20,000 for the new Steamboat Springs Youth Orchestra and $16,643 for the Yampa Valley Science School.

The orchestra and Science School were first-time applicants for Fund Board money and had supporters in the audience at the May 2 public meeting.

"Everything said by the members of the Fund Board was so positive or supportive," said John Fairlie, one of the director's for the new youth orchestra program. "I think this is a really good day for the children of our community. We were very pleased that the Fund Board wanted to have us partner with the schools to offer a strings program for the young musicians in our community."

The youth orchestra will service the Yampa Valley and practices are scheduled from 4:15 to 5:45 p.m. on Mondays at the Steamboat Springs High School starting this fall.

The elimination of AmeriCorps funding cost the Yampa Valley Science School more than $15,000 in guaranteed funding.

The Science School is a popular program offered to area sixth-graders for a week. The students live and eat at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp while doing hands-on projects to learn more about science.

The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps oversees the program, and RMYC development director Sheila Wright said the Fund Board gift will help keep the RMYC tuition at $125.

"It secures the future of the program at least for another year," Wright said. "We are excited the Fund Bard has given us overwhelming support."

The Fund Board also approved the spending of $80,000 for a grant writer and $15,000 for a consultant to examine the needs of the high school theater.

"A lot of people have a vested interest in having a theater," Crossan said. "We will pay for a consultant and then find out what the needs are."

The next Fund Board meeting is June 6.

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