Editorial Board, February 2009 through May 2009
- Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Paul Hughes, community representative
- Gail Smith, community representative
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Steamboat Springs Kudos to the Steamboat Springs School Board for drafting a policy that could guide the decision-making process for accepting grants and gifts. A well-crafted policy could help ensure unaffordable programs and salaries don't encumber the district's budget.
Gifts and grants provide a significant boost to the district's overall budget each year. At the top of that list are gifts from the Education Fund Board, the volunteer group that allocates revenues from the city's half-cent sales tax for education. In recent years, the tax has generated as much as $3 million annually.
That's a lot of money for additional teachers, materials and projects, and there's no question the voter-approved tax has raised the bar in terms of what Steamboat's public school system can offer local families. But the half-cent sales tax also poses challenges for the district and the School Board.
Each year, the Fund Board "gifts" money for specific school district salaries, programs and projects. These gifts range from money for new computers to funds to pay for more than a dozen classroom teachers. Many of the Fund Board gifts are for requests made by the district, but some are generated by ideas from community and Fund Board members.
Once the Fund Board votes to approve a funding request, it is passed on to the School Board, which must vote to accept it. Once accepted, the Fund Board gives the money to the School Board to pay for that specific item.
The School Board can run into problems when it accepts gifts that aren't for one-time expenditures or that don't jive with the district's long-term vision. Teacher or administrator salaries provide a good example of the former. If the Fund Board opts to not provide money for that teacher or administrator's salary the next year, the School Board is faced with a dilemma: Cut the position, or find room in its general fund to take on the salary itself.
The school district now finds itself in exactly that situation with respect to Gifted and Talented program teachers and English Language Learner specialists. School Board President Robin Crossan said the Fund Board provided money for four GT and four ELL staff members last year but likely will provide funding for only three of each this year. Both programs are mandated by the state, but Crossan said very little additional money is provided to school districts to defray the costs of said programs.
Enter the gift acceptance policy, which could require the School Board to answer the following questions before accepting a gift or grant:
- How much is the grant for?
- Who is providing it?
- Was it solicited by the school district?
- What are the conditions attached to it?
- What happens if the school district doesn't accept it?
- What happens when the grant money runs out?
- What is the timeline and duration of the grant?
Going through the exercise of definitively answering these and other questions before accepting a gift for grant could help the district avoid future dilemmas like those of GT and ELL staffing.
The School Board has turned down Fund Board gifts only twice in the more than 15-year history of the half-cent sales tax for education. As School Board members previously have said, they must be careful not to allow Fund Board gifts to, in effect, dictate district policy and direction. An effective gift acceptance policy could not only help ensure future school boards don't accept gifts that create long-term problems, it also could keep the priority and focus on sustainable programs.