Our View: School district consolidation could cut costs

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Editorial Board, January through May 8, 2011

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— It’s time to consider bold steps in how we educate our children, including a detailed analysis and consideration of consolidating Routt County’s three public school districts into one.

School districts across the state are facing another round of difficult budget cuts in the wake of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed $332 million net decrease in state funding for K-12 education next year.

Here in Routt County, an 8 percent decrease in funding could necessitate budget cuts of as much as $1.8 million in the Steamboat Springs School District alone. Any eventual cuts will come on the heels of $1.8 million in cuts that were made for the current school year, and $500,000 in cuts for the 2009-10 school year.

In South Routt, the decrease in school funding could result in lost revenue of $478,000 next year. In Hayden, that number could reach $282,000. And while both of those districts will be helped by voter-approved mill levy overrides that were passed last year, they’ll likely still need to trim from their budgets.

Hickenlooper’s proposal sends a strong message. K-12 education historically has been more protected from cuts than any other segment of the state budget. But when it makes up 41 percent of the overall budget, it can be protected for only so long — particularly with conflicting constitutional provisions like the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and Amendment 23.

Local school consolidation isn’t likely to be a popular scenario, but it very well could be a logical one. A community’s strongest identity often is the one it has with its schools. We don’t want to see that local passion and pride for schools and their sports diminished. But we do want to see how the overall quality of education for Routt County’s children could be improved through the efficiencies of a consolidated school system.

A thorough analysis of consolidation has not been conducted here, at least that anyone can remember. We challenge the school boards and superintendents in South Routt, Hayden and Steamboat to lead such an effort. What might a unified administrative structure look like? How much money would be saved? And what about cost efficiencies in other areas, including transportation and food services? Perhaps consolidation could be achieved in a way that allows communities to retain their schools and the associated sense of identity and pride?

Emotions are likely to run high with talk of school consolidation. But the emotional response often isn’t the rational one. What matters most is how we can provide the best education for our children, and if the answer is a singular Routt County school district, then it’s something to which we should all be open.

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

I think consolidation would make a great deal of sense for South Routt because I have often heard parents say that the high school is just too small for their child's educational needs. So they say it is just a matter of time of when their child goes to SB schools.

I already see enough South Routt kids being dropped off at Strawberry Park that I don't see how anyone could dispute there is a serious issue.

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ybul 3 years, 6 months ago

Maybe the district should also consider going to multi age class rooms from k-8(9). With more schools spread through out the county so that the bussing costs can be spent in the classroom, especially when fuel cost break that $4-$5 mark that is most likely going to occur in the near future.

Seems to me that given the Montessori's structure of 1-3 4-6 then a 7-9 age group that would facilitate the ability to have adequate class sizes when one moves to more small schools. In this setting the older kids help to teach the younger kids which provides them leadership skills, self confidence and by teaching the younger kids they actually learn the subject matter better. Then throw in the desire of the younger kids to be like the older kids and this pushes them to want to learn.

Personally the whole approach to education needs revamped.

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Scott Ford 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott W - Since I know you and I enjoy data, below is the 2010 October Pupil Count data for out of School District enrollment from the Colorado Dept of Education.

There are 58 Students whose parents live in the South Routt RE-3 district and enrolled their student in Steamboat Springs RE-2 School District There are 2 students whose parents live in the Steamboat Springs RE-2 district who enrolled their student in the South Routt RE-3 Net Gain for Steamboat Springs Re-2 of 54 students

There are 52 Students whose parents live in the Hayden RE-1 district and enrolled their student in Steamboat Springs RE-2 School District There are 6 students whose parents live in the Steamboat Springs RE-2 district who enrolled their student in the Hayden RE-1 Net Gain for Steamboat Springs Re-2 of 48 students

Essentially this year alone Steamboat Springs RE-2 is benefiting from 102 students from the other Routt County school districts.

Without questions this number is actually higher. This number represent only the number whose parents actually registered their student as being out of the district. One can only wonder how many Stagecoach area residents who may feel a much closer kinship with Steamboat Springs and have a Steamboat Springs PO Box simply never bother with the messy details of registering their student as being of the district.

With this trend, it is likely only a matter of time before the outlying school districts become so financially distressed that consolidation is the only viable option. Although this may make financial sense on paper to lose the school district will be painful on the residents of these areas.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott F, Is there any hint of what ages of the students living out of district going to SB? That might show a trend suggesting policy implications.

I've seen former SB residents moving to Oak Creek simply not inform the school district of their change of address. (I have no problem with that because that is the parent doing what they think is right for their kids).

I am not so sure that it would be that politically difficult for South Routt to have their school district consolidated. Many parents in South Routt see the lack of educational opportunities and expect their kids to graduate from SB high school, not Soroco. Nor do I think SB school administration is dreaming about gaining power over South Routt schools. So I think the SB school district would generally welcome a South Routt parent's help. Thus, the South Routt schools could possibly be set up as if they were charter schools within the school district so that their remains a feeling of local input.

I know of an issue right now that the small size of Soroco is part of the problem. Two parents with kids in the HS were talking about what to do because apparently the HS biology teacher said the students were too difficult and they can teach themselves the material. And at least for several days, the teacher had stopped teaching biology. When I was a student in San Jose I had two classes which the teachers had issues of teaching the class and one was replaced immediately and it took weeks for the principal to recognize the other situation and replace that teacher. So I asked the parents about an emergency replacement and they said that doesn't happen because there is not another capable teacher hanging around able to fill in.

Soutt Routt is different than Hayden because South Routt has 4 population centers and is thus politically fragmented. I do not have any idea how Hayden would react to consolidation and if it would feel like a weakening of their community.

I note that Hayden has about 20% more students than Soroco and according to Scott F's statistics, Soroco loses 10% more students to SB. So Soroco is further down the path of being hollowed out and threatening to not be viable.

I think South Routt views the school district more as serving an important purpose educating the children than as a some icon of their community. And so unification could be accepted as a good thing if it improved their kid's educational opportunities. Obviously, the Yampa elementary would stay open and maybe the vitality of the high school could be improved (such as an outdoors oriented biology, geology, weather, applied chemistry program that could attract some SB high school students).

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Scott Ford 3 years, 6 months ago

Hi Scott W - The data I have access to does not break this down the out-of-district by grade. The Steamboat Springs School District knows it.

I am sure the following comments will ruffle a few feathers - but I think the greatest resistance to consolidation of the school districts county wide will likely come from the parents of the Steamboat Springs School District itself.

There is a great deal of pride placed on the performance of the students in the Steamboat Springs School District and incorporating students in from other districts that are historically lower performing for whatever the reason will negatively impact CSAPS rankings.

Percent of 9th and 10th grade students performing w/ Proficient or Advanced (Composite of Reading/Writing/Math): • Hayden RE-1 = 51.9% • South Routt RE-3 = 52.6% • Steamboat Springs RE-2 = 67.3% Blend all the districts together on a composite basis that recognizes differences in enrollment, the composite is = 62.8%

When the difference of being recognized as school district "accredited with distinction" was achieved on tenths of a percent - folding in the outlying districts may be viewed by some as having a "drag" on performance results.

In the short term, this would be the reality. Over the long term, it will likely become a mute issue. However, it could take several years before the view of a single consolidated was accepted as the norm. The reality is it may be difficult to stop "fussing" about year-to-year ranking status and focus on what is in the best interest for students and the citizens of Routt County over the long term.

Now that would be a great question of the week.

I would be interested in what others think.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott F, But the test scores argument cuts both ways. With SB school district taking 100 official students, some number unofficial students and all the families that move into district then it would appear the other districts are already dragging down SB's scores. Thus, it could be argued for SB to maintain the excellence of SB schools then they have to consolidate.

And as a SB parent, I wouldn't mind because if the district were to lose some status because of consolidation. As long as the scores did not go down at my kid's schools then changes in district status don't affect me. And it would be easy enough to recognize the district's scores declined from the consolidation. So as long as the scores didn't decline in the consolidated schools then the reputation of the SB school district would be safe.

I have seen a SB elementary student still in a SB remedial reading program tutor an "at grade level" Soroco student of the same grade read a book. It was sort of awesome and distressing that there is such a difference. Apparently, SB is all over any kid that tests below in early reading and provides additional instruction until the student is at least grade level so that the kid doesn't struggle again and need remedial help again.

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Cooke 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott W – posting something online which amounts to a personal and professional attack on someone you do not know, nor have ever spoken to, based on something that you heard second-hand, which came to your source second-hand from a student... not in the slightest bit ethical. You should be ashamed.

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ybul 3 years, 6 months ago

Lets think bold, not simply stitching together two pieces of the same fabric...

Yep it will achieve modest efficiencies of scale but then will also be subject to diseconomies of scale (the need to bus everyone)

Technology advances afford us the ability to decentralize the system and allow kids to have individualized learning paths at their own speed. The model today pretty much teaches everyone at the same speed.

The GATE program in Steamboat probably draws in kids from outside the district who want their kids taught at higher levels than the smaller standardized class rooms allow kids to be taught at.

Every one learns at their own pace and allowing them to track on their own plan at their own pace would yield far better results.


I liked this recent essay by John Creighton on a “21st century institutions”: http://johncr8on.com/projects/21st-century-institutions/ “Indeed, people have come to expect options and choices. The idea of “one size fits all” is considered as old as the steam engine train. And, people’s growing expectations are not ending with choice. Increasingly, people expect to design, produce and manage their own experiences. They will gravitate toward institutions that help them do these things.”


The Wrath of Khan: 21st Century Education Genesis Posted by brooks in Misc, Screencasting, Social Media, TechSmith on Oct 1st, 2010

http://www.brooksandrus.com/blog/2010/10/01/the-wrath-of-khan-the-genesis-of-21st-century-education/

Sal Khan has been getting quite a bit of attention lately. He’s been featured on Jon Udell’s blog, described by Bill Gates as his, “favorite teacher,” and awarded a $2 million grant by Google. He makes mathematics screencasts, thousands of them, inside a closet, in his house. His math videos have had over twenty-five million views and his YouTube channel has over seventy-five thousand subscribers. Let’s repeat that again – he’s one person teaching thousands of students math from a closet inside of his house using YouTube and screencasting software. That’s education, 21st century style, my friends.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Except social interaction and adult supervision are essential elements of children learning. Which is why schools spending on technology and computers has had such minimal impacts upon test scores.

Along those lines, the data shows that small class sizes make a big difference in elementary school and have minimal impact for high school students. But politically that is apparently too difficult to explain and schools are also spending money on smaller high school classes.

For college and some high school classes it probably does make sense to watch the lecture by a top notch (clear and interesting) lecturer and then have smaller groups work throw the material with TAs.

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ybul 3 years, 6 months ago

In grade school, very low tech hands on experiential learning, is the best in my opinion. Also having multi age classrooms helps out as the peer pressure is exerted in positive ways, the young kids wanting to be able to do what the older kids do and the older kids helping to teach the young ones, benefitting both the young and older kids.

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Stan Zuber 3 years, 6 months ago

The article talks mainly about the lack of funding. So on a consolidation, how would taxes be collected? How would they be distributed? The make up of the School Board. Remember it's about the lack of funding. How are you going save money?

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Presumably, the real estate mill levies would be unified to that of SB school district which is much bigger than the others. SSSD taxes are slightly lower than Soroco and somewhat higher than Hayden.

As any TEA partier would argue, it is not that taxes are too low, it is how the money is being spent. The trouble with being a small school district is that they still have to do the administrative work of a bigger district.

Consolidation would be expected to save money in the administrative costs. Obviously, there would no longer be 3 superintendents. And stuff like collecting and processing test scores is more of a challenge of knowing how to do it and letting the computer do it for all the classes. Grants would be for one school district, not 3 grant applications for each of the school districts. And so on.

School Board would have however many members and districts would be draw with equal populations.

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sledneck 3 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, thats what our schools ( and so many other public endeavors) need... more funding. Kind of like Charlie Sheen needs more Cocaine.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

What are you going on about?

The issue is not increasing funding for schools, but dealing with cuts in funding.

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JusWondering 3 years, 6 months ago

To only momentarily jump into the fray. I have always wondered why Routt County does not have a single school district. I understand it is far more rural than many of the other couty-wide districts in the State, in today's technological age it seems wasteful to have levels of administration replicated in each collection of communities. It does not make sense to bus kids over 50 miles from McCoy to SB (for example), but it does make sense to consolidate administration, support staff, curriculum and standards. It would also allow synergies for some of the "specials" teachers. In metro areas it is not uncommon for a music, art, PE or other teacher to travel from school to school because no single school can justify their existence. Also, it is very common for nurses, psychologists, etc to travel as well.

Merging school districts seems to be something that would cut costs and ensure a consistency of education (to some extent). In worrying about test scores CSAP recognizes differences within district as well so it would not necessarily be a detriment to the existing SB schools.

Coming from a nationwide top 10 school district and a top school in that district I have wondered at the current system's inefficiencies. There were schools in the district that did not perform as well as others ad the difference in real estate value was very obvious on the border streets where homes accross the street from each other would be valued with a variance as much as 25% just because of the schools.

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Wendy Villa 3 years, 6 months ago

@Scott W. as I read your comments, I get the feeling you think you know how the majority of South Routt community feels regarding this issue of combining into one school district. I believe you are misspeaking and misrepresenting a large portion of our community.

Many, not all, of the South Routt families taking their children into the Steamboat Springs School District do so mainly for convenience sake (both parents work in Steamboat and thus take their children to this school district) and there is no argument there is a much wider variety of opportunities available for their children. Having said that, a much larger portion of South Routt have made the choice that although both parents work in Steamboat they want their children attending South Routt School District. I know that our children receive a wonderful education as well. I love our district and I am not here to talk badly about any school district, for each has its own successes and issues.

I do believe that if these discussions actually do become an agenda item, then it will be discovered that the minor amount of savings that could be gained is not worth the overall community upset that will surely follow.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Of the people I know in Oak Creek whose kids attend SB district schools, they tell me it is because of the better schools. We obviously talk to different people.

I do not claim to represent any one other than my own opinions. I think consolidation might not be that difficult politically because there are no major policy differences that would be hard to deal with in a consolidated district. It is not as if South Routt rejected SB's curriculum or teaching methods and so remaining independent is essential to the region's educational model.

Soroco and Hayden are not bad school districts. SB tests as an excellent school district. A consolidation would not eliminate Hayden or Soroco schools or teachers. It would merge the districts. None of the schools are so close to each other to expect that any would be closed. It would eliminate some administrative staff. It would not eliminate all administrative staff in either Hayden or Soroco. It would probably eliminate some from each of the current districts.

The bigger question is not whether South Routt would like to remain it's own little school district, but is it willing to pay the price. The upcoming budget cuts represents a cut of more than $1,000 per student for the South Routt school district. Presumably, the upcoming reductions in assessed property values is also going to reduce revenues.

South Routt has about 20% as many students as Steamboat. Does the superintendent make 20% of SB's? And so on, the overhead of a small district is going to be higher per student than the overhead per student for a larger district., and SB is a wealthy district. So overhead per student would be expected to decline while money spent directly on education in Hayden and South Routt would be expected to increase.

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Patricia Shaffer 3 years, 6 months ago

As a parent of kids who have attended the SoRoCo schools; one who went to the alternative school and graduated, one who dropped out after the alternative school was moved to Steamboat, I think we all need to take a step back. Put yourself in your children's shoes. Would you want to go to school in a town that is your rival and where the kids there have never treated you with any respect? These school districts have been rivals for years, and that will never change. Expecting our children to be able to all go to school together, is like putting a wolf in a chicken coop and expecting him not to attack. The smaller school districts already have limited resources, teachers and administrators available to them. Talking about cutting even more from the schools is taking more away from our children. We want our children to thrive in a competitive world, yet we do not give them what they need to accomplish that, stability at home in their own towns. For the kids that have special needs and are in classes to mainstream them to be in with their friends in regular classes; what happens to that student on a day when the teacher is having to travel to another district? Steamboat may have more kids in their schools, but that does not disqualify the importance of the other districts and their ability to try and provide an education in their own towns for their own children. For years, the smaller schools have tried to get tax money from the Steamboat schools to help their schools, and they have always refused to help out. Maybe if that had not happened back then, we would not be in this situation right now in our schools. Yes it is a nation wide problem, but we could have helped ourselves out some before it got to this. Having one superintendent, principal, for all districts may sound like a great idea, but what happens come winter time when the superintendent needs to travel to one of the other districts? Where would the central location be at? In Steamboat? We all know what the road conditions can be like in the winter between Oak Creek and Steamboat, or Oak Creek to Hayden, do we really want our children or superintendent traveling on these roads because we decided to cut positions and districts? The parents who choose to take their children out of district for school should continue to have that option. The parents who want to keep their kids and staffing in their district should also have that option, just like the parents who choose to home school or charter school or private school their children. If we all start taking our children and our business out of the town we live in, none of us will have a town to live in anymore. No more grocery store, liquor store, pharmacy, laundry mate, apartment complex, or restaurants. Is this really what we want? Politicians don't really understand rural communities, and the pride that we try to have in ourselves. Just because you believe that the school district may be better, does your child feel the same way?

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JusWondering 3 years, 6 months ago

ndpendant1 - I imagine some of your same comments were voiced when Oak Creek and Yampa consolidated to become SoRoCo in the first place (you know being rivals and all). You worry about a superindendent travelling our roads yet you merrily send your kids on a bus to Hayden, Kremmling or points farther for sports on these same roads? If SBS, Hayden and Soroco were all one district then perhaps the "share the wealth" you allude to would have happened. I find these forums about consolidation interesting... the ones most vocally opposed seem to be the ones that can benefit the most? What an interesting dicotomy. If I were SBS I would be up in arms about sharing resources and possible drags on existing infrastructure.

"Just because you believe that the school district may be better, does your child feel the same way? " Since when do kids rationalize like adults and have the mental maturity to make adult decisions? As parents it is our responsibility to guide them to decisions that are healthy for their long-term well being. Putting these decisions in their hands is shirking our responsibility... and part of what has gotten us in trouble in the first place.

At the end of the day the current tax base cannot afford the current infrastruture. So the choice is cut expenses or raise your taxes. Which teachers are you willing to sacrifice? Which program are you willing to cut (be careful what you say because some of them are self-funded and cannot be cut)? Which bus route goes away?

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Patricia Shaffer 3 years, 6 months ago

JustWondering- I like your ideas and comments, but just a couple of things. I do not just merrily send my kids along on the bus to sports. I, unlike alot of parents, attend the sports events and actually drive my child myself. Seatbelts are the law, but not on a school bus. "The share the wealth" that was alluded to should have happen years ago! If we, as the adults, want our children to believe that we can all be united, then we should have shown some equality a long time ago about how all the schools were treated. The parents who work in SB give their work tax dollars to SB. Should not those tax dollars be designated to the correct school then if we are not all one? Why should SBS be the only one to benifit from this money? Typical remark about SBS should be up in arms about other schools and students wanting to be treated equal!

Giving our children the ability to make some decisions is what makes them the next generation of adults. When we, as their parents, do not allow them to have a say at all in what happens to them, and then when they turn 18 expect them to be able to suddenly be able to do it all, is, I agree, part of the problem we face today. There has to a point when they start having a say, and this is not shirking our responsibility but using it correctly, so that they know what to do and the consequences for their decisions.

I do agree, at the end of the day, there is never enough money to go around for all programs. Private schools, charter schools, alternative schools, public schools. Where is the line drawn? I am not willing to sacrafice teachers or programs. We are talking about cutting our childrens education, and that is just not an option. When it is all said and done, in the end, we really won't have a say anyway in what happens, the "big office" will hand it down with no consequences to them at all.

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JusWondering 3 years, 6 months ago

ndependant1- I am not so sure you and I are that far apart. I am not a proponent of cutting value add programs. Nowhere have I even proposed closing one school or cutting a student-facing position unless this position is a duplication or inefficient in its allocation. I am a very strong proponent of the elimination of waste and inefficiencies.

If SBS, Soroco and Hayden were one district then monies could be apportioned more appropriately, fairly, or equally if you will. I see Routt County as a single tax base. I do not see a MSA of Steamboat Springs, a MSA of Oak Creek, etc with separate independent economies. The economies of each of these communities are interdependent and relying on each other to some degree. SBS does have a vested interest in ensuring decent schools for Soroco, if it does not then the quality/qauntity of the work force would degrade. Who would purposely move their family to a community where the school system is inefficient and ineffective? If choosing to locate to two different resort areas and one has a better school system, I move to the better school system.

Now, about my "SBS" up in arms" comment. Given the current tax structure and the very points you mention it seems to me that they have more to lose... but I may be wrong. At a minimum, I think the idea of a study of what a consolidated district would look like is an incredibly good idea (if we can somehow find the funds for it without further degrading the quality of education students receive)!

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Patricia Shaffer 3 years, 6 months ago

JustWondering....I SO TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU!! Thanks for all the input and extra thoughts for me to consider!

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

I think SSSD is already spreading the wealth. They are providing a part time grant writer, technology assistance and teaching over 10% of the students in Hayden and Soroco. The teaching of out of district students is a particular spreading of the wealth because SSSD is not fully reimbursed and so is subsidizing the education of those students and the student's home district keeps their local property tax revenues and has 10% fewer students to educate.

The SSSD is funded by property taxes, not income taxes. So people working in SB are not paying taxes to SSSD. The Education Fund Board collects sales tax and so does collect money from those that live in other districts that spend money in SB. But now the Fund Board is able to distribute money to the other districts and they probably come out ahead on the deal now.

I think SB is not up in arms over the talk of consolidation because between teaching 10% of adjacent district's students and dealing with kids that move into district then it means consolidation would help solve some SSSD issues by allowing earlier tutoring and so on. Also, SSSD is much bigger and the difference in the amount of money that would be spent in Hayden or Soroco is not going to have much of an effect on SSSD's current schools.

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