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Steamboat Springs Candidates for the one contested Steamboat Springs School Board seat showed different levels of openness to the idea of consolidating Routt County's school districts at an election forum Friday.
Asked whether fluctuating enrollments and strapped budgets countywide meant the idea merited serious consideration, Bill Kennedy and Brian Kelly acknowledged that local school districts are facing significant financial challenges but said it would be important to protect each school district's identity and traditions.
"The biggest danger is Steamboat is viewed as this big, consuming giant," said Kelly, a professional surveyor.
Kelly said schools in each area of the county and separate sports teams should be preserved, but he also said consolidation of the districts deserved serious consideration because of the opportunity to share administrative costs and save money.
Kennedy, a retired professional educator from the East Coast, said his two previous experiences with consolidation failed and that he is more interested in Routt County's school districts saving money by sharing some teachers and services.
"Tradition is a huge thing with community and people and generations and generations," Kennedy said. "I think (consolidation) is an almost insurmountable mountain to climb almost everywhere I have been."
Kennedy and Kelly are running for a District 1 seat on the School Board. John DeVincentis is leaving the seat by not seeking re-election.
Kennedy said his professional experience in education makes him the best candidate for the board. Kennedy spent 39 years as an educator in New York, including as the superintendent of two school districts for six years, before retiring. He moved to Steamboat in 2005 and is married to Barb (Keenan) Kennedy, a former Soda Creek Elementary School teacher.
"Now's the time for me to give something back to my community," he said.
Kelly, however, said his outsider's perspective as a parent and volunteer was an advantage and that Kennedy's lengthy time in the field might make him more rigid in his thinking.
"Anyone who has run any kind of business knows you start thinking outside the box," Kelly said, referring to the surveying business he owns.
School Board member Denise Connelly is running for her seat unopposed. She said she remains committed to the district and wants to continue on the board to help it confront financial challenges ahead.
"We have a real concern about funding in our state," Connelly said, citing Colorado budget shortfalls. "K-12 education could well be on the chopping block this year."
The Steamboat Pilot & Today, Steamboat TV18, the Routt County Republican Party, the Routt County Democratic Party and the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors sponsored Friday's forum. It was taped and will be rebroadcast on Steamboat TV18, Comcast Channel 18, throughout the election cycle. The days and times of the rebroadcast schedule will be announced.