Editorial Board, May 2008 to August 2008
- Bryna Larsen, publisher
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Eric Morris, community representative
- Paul Draper, community representative
Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.
After years of debate about sharing revenues from Steamboat Springs' education sales tax with other Routt County school districts, we were encouraged by the Education Fund Board's unanimous support last week for considering flexibility in how those funds are dispersed.
With the half-cent sales tax up for renewal this fall, now is the time to propose such a shift in philosophy. Sharing at least a small percentage of the $3 million generated annually by the tax is, for lack of a better phrase, simply the right thing to do. It's becoming increasingly important for us to recognize our community extends beyond the city limits of Steamboat Springs. Hayden and South Routt residents help make up the work force needed to support Steamboat's resort-driven economy, and they spend money here shopping and dining year-round. As an integral part of our community, we should support their struggling school districts by, at the very least, considering funding requests specific to those districts.
Steamboat's half-cent sales tax for education was first approved by voters in 1993, and subsequently renewed in 1996 and 1999. Annual tax revenues have grown significantly in the past 15 years, with the tax now generating in excess of $3 million a year.
Those funds have been spent almost exclusively on Steamboat Springs School District programs, including the salaries of teachers and some administrative positions, as well as capital projects and a variety of technology and classroom needs. The Fund Board has paid for a grants writer who writes grant requests for all three county school districts.
The revenues are administered by the Education Fund Board, a volunteer group that hears funding requests and approves or denies those requests. If approved, the funding for each specific request is presented as a "gift" to the Steamboat Springs School Board, which then votes to accept it.
South Routt and Hayden school district officials have approached the Fund Board multiple times in recent years to gauge interest in sharing some of the revenues with their districts. They usually were met with resistance, with an oft-stated reason being that Steamboat voters approved the tax with the understanding that its revenues would be used for Steamboat schools.
That defense certainly had merit, and it's also why now is the right time for the Fund Board to reconsider revenue sharing. City voters would be told in advance that the tax could be used for Hayden and South Routt schools.
Some say Oak Creek and Hayden should institute their own sales taxes for education, but each is at the maximum rate the state allows for statutory towns. Steamboat, as a home-rule charter, isn't subject to the same limitations.
Of course, the revenue-sharing decision ultimately is up to the Steamboat Springs City Council. City Council members seem open to the idea of revenue sharing. What form it might take is a more difficult question to answer. One of the problems in determining an appropriate sharing structure is the lack of concrete data on how much Steamboat sales tax revenue is generated by Hayden and South Routt residents.
Fund Board member Mark Andersen says South Routt and Hayden officials aren't looking for a substantial sum of money to be given to their districts. He also emphasized the revenue sharing discussions are just beginning.
We also know that South Routt and Hayden schools have struggled mightily in recent years with declining student enrollment and revenues, as well as the resulting loss of programming and staffing.
We're part of a community that's larger than the city limits of Steamboat Springs. It's time we recognize that by finalizing and approving a tax renewal question that also will benefit children and families in South Routt and Hayden.