Increasing salaries for school staff is a vital goal. But as the Steamboat Springs School Board considers what to do with more than $400,000 in unexpected state revenue from rising student enrollment, we hope that other needs of the Steamboat Springs School District won't be left out of the discussion.
Reducing cutbacks at the new Soda Creek Elementary School, helping fund long-delayed construction projects at Steamboat Springs Middle School and financing an all-day kindergarten program are items that immediately come to mind.
In November 2006, voters in Steamboat Springs approved two school district ballot measures. One generated $600,000 for staff salaries and compensation in 2007, with a revenue stream that will increase annually before capping at $800,000 in 2015. The other allowed for $29.5 million in bonds to build a new Soda Creek and renovate Strawberry Park Elementary School.
We believe the promise of the first ballot initiative has been met.
In June, 159 out of 166 staff members on the district's collaborative bargaining team approved the district's 2007-08 salary package. Thanks to the ballot initiative, the package uses more than $475,000 to raise staff salaries across the board. Certified staff received a raise of more than $300 at the bottom of the pay scale, and a raise of more than $2,000 at the top.
The package also shortens the climb to the top of the pay scale, beefs up the district's one-time retirement payments and adds additional salary increases for cost of living.
"We got together to fund, attract and retain staff with better salaries," former Superintendent Donna Howell said at the time.
Those revenues are costing the owner of a $450,000 Steamboat home about $100 per year, and the owner of a $320,000 Steamboat business about $250 per year, according to figures presented during the campaign in 2006.
The community has made a strong investment in its teachers and school staff, and that investment will continue for years to come.
Meanwhile, high construction costs are already causing cutbacks at the new Soda Creek - a school marketed to voters as a state-of-the-art facility for the next 50 years.
School officials, including School Board President Denise Connelly, say cuts such as removing canopies over entrances and replacing stainless steel railings with a less costly material will not alter the school's educational environment.
But the cuts will alter the look and functionality of a downtown school that, along with renovations to Strawberry Park, will cost more than $50 million during the 20-year repayment period.
Additionally, numerous parents have lobbied passionately for full-day kindergarten, while middle school administrators have shown admirable patience at prolonged construction delays at the school's front entrance.
We realize that all-day kindergarten needs a location, not just money, and that $400,000 would only begin to fund the middle school project.
While continuing to increase pay for school teachers and staff is important, the school district has other needs. With a surplus of per-pupil funding from the 60 or so additional students who enrolled in Steamboat schools this fall, we hope the conversation about how to spend the $400,000 is as open and thoughtful as possible before the budget is approved Oct. 8.