Fund Board approves $4.4 million budget

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— The Education Fund Board on Wednesday approved a record budget of more than $4.4 million for the 2008-09 school year, including $1.5 million to complete the long-delayed construction at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Projected sales tax revenues for the year are about $3.1 million, meaning the Fund Board, which administers the city's half-cent sales tax for education, will have to dip into its reserves.

Initial funding requests from the Steamboat Springs School District for this year's budgeting process were $4.7 million, but Fund Board members expressed discomfort in spending nearly $1.6 million more than projected sales tax revenues.

Fund Board member Michael Loomis said worries about a national recession could be felt locally.

"We are just starting to feel that here in Steamboat," Loomis said. "I'm concerned if we can count on the level of income."

Instead, the Fund Board approved, by a 7-3 vote, shaving 10 percent from the Capital and Technology commissions' initial budget requests. The Educational Excellence Commission's request - which includes funds for small class sizes, gifted and talented teachers and the articulated foreign language program - was left intact.

Fund Board member Kristi Brown, who proposed cutting 10 percent from the Capital and Technology commissions, said requests made by the Education Excellence commission need to be the priority of the Fund Board to keep the promise made to voters to lower class sizes.

"Thinking of the language of the ballot, this is the core of the Fund Board - small class sizes," agreed Fund Board member Harry Lambart, who also serves on the Education Excellence Commission with Brown.

The three commissions - Educational Excellence, Capital and Technology - each recommend spending requests to the Fund Board. Each commission is allocated a specific amount of money for which to make those requests. All individual funding requests must be approved by the Fund Board.

A previous measure, proposed by Loomis, asked each of the three commissions to cut 15 percent of their budgeted requests, which would have lowered the Fund Board's total spending budget to about $4 million. The measure failed by a 3-7 vote.

"I don't think, in reality, we could fund everything on this (budget) sheet," Loomis said. Board members Mark Andersen and Jim Kurowski also voted for the 15 percent universal cut.

Because the sales tax is dependent on approval by Steamboat Springs voters - approval occurred in 1993, 1996 and 1999, and a renewal question will be on the ballot this year - the Fund Board traditionally has kept a large reserve in case the sales tax is rejected and its revenues disappear.

The $4.4 million gift to the school district will drop the Fund Board's reserves to about $1.6 million through Dec. 31, 2009, the date when the sales tax is set to expire.

The reason for the lofty budget for this year's Fund Board was the $1.5 million for the middle school project and a substantial increase in requests from the Technology Commission, which had requested $1.49 million to further overhaul the district's computer hardware and software.

Tim Miles, the district's technology director, said he would work with the Technology Commission to identify areas that could be trimmed in the request.

The three commissions will meet in the months ahead to prioritize items for the 2008-09 school year. Each commission has presented its initial readings to the Fund Board but has to present a second reading before a final approval.

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