Blues break may be shorter

District discusses four-day weekend instead of full week off

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— The traditional "blues break" for students in the Steamboat Springs School District will likely be shortened to a four-day weekend, according to a preliminary calendar approved Monday by the Steamboat Springs School Board.

Superintendent Shalee Cunningham shifted away from the calendar she originally proposed and instead offered a plan that would have school start Aug. 24 and end June 4, with a four-day break in February instead of the typical week-long blues break.

Cunningham changed the proposed calendar after a discussion lasting more than 45 minutes with parents and board members. Parents expressed concern that the Aug. 31 start date initially proposed would have put a strain on sports teams, while a last day of June 11 was criticized as too late. Board members attempted to find a compromise that would meet parent requests.

"Blues break is the elephant in the room. We have to go to school in the summer if we're going to take five weeks off in the school year," board member Lisa Brown said. "I do think we need to make a decision rapidly because it affects decisions for the next year."

The board voted unanimously to support the proposed start and end dates, and members will consider a full calendar at the May 4 meeting with details about other holidays and teacher workdays.

Revenue decreases

Also at Monday night's School Board meeting, district Finance Director Dale Mellor told board members that if the School Finance Act passed by the Colorado Senate is approved by the House on Thursday without changes, the district will not have enough money to fund regular annual salary step increases for staff based on experience.

Mellor will travel to Denver on Thursday to address the House and advocate for increased funding.

Under the School Finance Act passed by the Senate on April 2, Steamboat's district would receive $382,000 less than in previous years based on the district's size. The Education Fund Board also allocated $488,000 less to the district for the 2009-10 school year.

The proposed School Finance Act includes an increase in base funding for the district of 4.9 percent, or about $550,000, but the overall effect on the district when including the Fund Board loss and other decreases is about a $332,000 decline in revenue.

"The bottom line right now is we've got $186,000 to work with," Mellor said. "That's before raises, before anything else that we do."

The district recently announced there will be no cost-of-living raises for next school year, but Cunningham said at the time that employees still would receive their regular step increases based on experience. Those step increases would cost the district $297,000.

The preliminary budget also reflects cuts of one position in the English Language Learner and Gifted and Talented programs. Those positions previously were funded by the Fund Board. Board member Laura Anderson emphasized that those cuts are not final, and the district may restore those positions using money from cuts in other areas.

The board has a budget workshop scheduled for May 22 when cuts and other decisions will be discussed in more detail. No decisions about cuts, reductions in regular salary increases or any other budgetary decisions for the next school year have been approved.

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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