Bill Kennedy, who is running for the Steamboat Springs School Board's District 1 seat, speaks Tuesday afternoon at a forum hosted by the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club. His opponent, Brian Kelly, and Denise Connelly, who is running unopposed to retain her District 3 seat, joined him at the forum.

Photo by John F. Russell

Bill Kennedy, who is running for the Steamboat Springs School Board's District 1 seat, speaks Tuesday afternoon at a forum hosted by the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club. His opponent, Brian Kelly, and Denise Connelly, who is running unopposed to retain her District 3 seat, joined him at the forum.

School Board candidates speak at forum

Hopefuls give answers about class size, BOCES, district's future

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Brian Kelly, who is running for the Steamboat Springs School Board's District 1 seat, speaks at a forum hosted by the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon. His opponent Bill Kennedy and Denise Connelly, who is running unopposed to retain her seat in District 3, joined him for the forum.

— Despite decreasing funding and tighter budgets, candidates for the Steamboat Springs School Board said opportunities abound for the school district.

"In light of financial constraints, there are always new opportunities," said Bill Kennedy, who is running for the District 1 seat against Brian Kelly. "There are always new learning techniques. You are always drawing on the strength of your community."

Kennedy, Kelly and Denise Connelly, who is running unopposed to retain her District 3 seat, participated in a candidates forum hosted over lunch Tuesday by the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs.

Kelly, who owns BTK Surveys in Steamboat, said the school system should work to identify students' education and career paths earlier, whether they plan to continue on to a four-year college or prepare for a vocational career.

Connelly, running for her second four-year term after a 28-year career as an English and Spanish teacher in the district, said the new Colorado Growth Model, which tracks a student's yearly progress, is the best tool for dedicating resources to the greatest needs.

"The new opportunities we have will really center around the new information we get from the Colorado Growth Model to see where our students are, look at their test scores, see where the holes are in our curriculum and address those specifically," she said. "Because before, we haven't got a whole lot of information where students stand individually."

Candidates also were asked about small class sizes and where to prioritize them when making tough budget decisions.

Kennedy, who moved to Steamboat from New York in 2005 after retiring from a 39-year career in education, said only as a last resort should small class sizes be jeopardized as school districts consider budget cuts.

Kelly said small class size was one of the original reasons the half-cent sales tax was proposed in 1993.

"Class size was easily averaging in the low 30s, and we were seeing ourselves becoming like Southern California, where many class sizes are in the mid-30s and higher," said Kelly, the first chairman of Steamboat's half-cent sales tax committee. "That is still a priority in the half-cent sales tax."

Kelly added that class size would still be a priority of the half-cent sales tax given limits to K-12 funding.

Connelly pointed out that sales taxes in Steamboat were down 20 percent in August and that the district was now sharing that revenue with the Hayden and South Routt school districts. But she acknowledged the importance of continuing to maintain small class sizes, despite fewer resources, because small classes are important to parents.

The candidates also were asked what their positions would be regarding the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services' claim that its member districts owe it money above and beyond what they originally were billed.

Connelly clarified that the School Board had nothing to do with managing the BOCES budget. She said the districts would have to work with BOCES to get as much information as possible to address the deficit, but that they still might have to cut special education services. Kelly said it came down to knowing how much money your organization has on hand, what its expenses are and how much revenue it generates.

Kennedy said he supported the action already taken, which included the superintendents from BOCES member districts working together to create a plan to deal with the deficit and increased assessments.

- To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail jweinstein@steamboatpilot.com

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