Fund Board decision to
sales tax for
education, but we question the necessity and appropriateness of hiring a
PR firm using
The urgency and initiative shown by Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board members in their efforts to extend the city's half-cent sales tax for education are commendable. However, the Fund Board's decision last week to hire a Denver public relations firm to market the tax to local voters was disappointing and, we fear, could work against them.
On Oct. 3, Fund Board members voted to begin negotiating a contract with Peggy Gonder of the Denver-based PR firm Gonder and Associates. It is estimated Gonder's services will cost taxpayers $60,000.
Some Fund Board members appropriately questioned whether sales tax dollars can be used to fund administrative costs not related to education. Gonder replied that informing residents about the tax and its benefits falls under the school district's educational mission.
"People wouldn't know if there wasn't somebody helping to sell a story," she told Fund Board members. "When you think about it, a lot of school districts have full-time PR people."
The problem is that the Fund Board isn't part of the school district - in fact, legally there has to be a clear separation between the two - and selling stories isn't a Fund Board mission.
Rather, the Fund Board is a volunteer group of residents that oversees revenues from the city's half-cent sales tax for education. The tax was first approved by voters in 1993 and then renewed in 1996 and 1999. It sunsets at the end of 2009.
The sales tax now generates more than $3 million a year for Steamboat Springs School District programs. Throughout the years, revenues from the sales tax have been used for such things as an elementary Spanish program, additional teachers to reduce class sizes, school computers and a Steamboat Springs Middle School expansion.
We fully support the half-cent sales tax and what it has provided for public education in Steamboat Springs, but we don't think the residents of Steamboat need a Denver PR firm to convince them of that. What voters need is a straightforward, unbiased look at the history of the tax and what it has funded. We think Fund Board members and half-cent sales tax supporters are very capable of carrying out that task.
It also feels inappropriate for the Fund Board to use tax revenues to pay for a PR campaign to sway the voters who paid those taxes in the first place.
Ultimately, Fund Board members are right to be deliberate in their efforts to win approval of the tax extension, but paying $60,000 to an outside firm will be construed by some as an inappropriate use of revenues, particularly given the level of disappointment with the School Board's recent decision to spend nearly $300,000 to buy out former superintendent Donna Howell's contract. It would be a shame if funds spent to promote the Fund Board actually created a backlash against a tax that has done so much for our schools.