Gov. John Hickenlooper gets a few laughs from fellow panel members, including community members Cari Hermacinski, Grant Fenton and John Kerst, Wednesday in Steamboat Springs during a swing through Northwest Colorado to discuss topics including economic development.

Photo by John F. Russell

Gov. John Hickenlooper gets a few laughs from fellow panel members, including community members Cari Hermacinski, Grant Fenton and John Kerst, Wednesday in Steamboat Springs during a swing through Northwest Colorado to discuss topics including economic development.

Hickenlooper touches on Steamboat school district consolidation

Governor addressed several topics in talk to Steamboat service clubs



Gov. John Hickenlooper gets a few laughs from fellow panel members, including community members Cari Hermacinski, Grant Fenton and John Kerst, Wednesday in Steamboat Springs during a swing through Northwest Colorado to discuss topics including economic development.

— Gov. John Hickenlooper struck a local chord Wednesday when he said school district consolidations could be a way to reduce costs for public education, which he said faces a $385 million budget shortfall statewide.

Hickenlooper suggested re­­ducing the state’s 178 school districts by about two-thirds, to as few as 60, to eliminate duplication of services and costs that can result from multiple superintendents and administrative teams serving multiple districts in one region.

“There’s no reason why you have to have the same bureaucracy repeated,” Hickenlooper said. “That (consolidation) is a direction the state of Colorado needs to go in.”

Hickenlooper covered a range of topics while speaking to more than 100 local service club members in Bud Werner Memorial Library during an hourlong stop in Steamboat Springs. The Democratic governor is hosting similar discussions across the state during his first months in office.

Some of the governor’s comments on education indicated future policy directions that could strongly relate to Routt County.

“I appreciated his comments about consolidation — that topic is sure out there,” said Shalee Cunningham, superintendent of the Steamboat Springs School District.

Cunningham said “conversations are beginning” about whether and how to fund a study of the potential benefits and impacts of merging the Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts.

Hickenlooper said Wednesday, as a theoretical example, that a structure of one superintendent working with three school boards could be feasible. Cunningham, though, said such a notion likely wouldn’t work — at least not in Routt County.

“Probably not,” she said, with a rueful laugh. “That isn’t consolidation. … You can’t just wave a wand and consolidate. It’s very political, and it’s very sensitive.”

A state report released in January addressed the needs of rural school districts and raised the idea of consolidation.

“The report urged drafting of a new law that would allow for voluntary consolidation of those districts below a certain pupil size (for example, 1,000 students) with approval only needed from the local boards of education that it involves,” a Colorado Department of Education news release stated. “Any attempts at mandatory consolidation, the report stated, would be strongly disputed by local communities. The report … urges more cost-sharing and cooperation among school districts.”

The Hayden and South Routt school districts each have fewer than 500 students. The Steamboat Springs district has fewer than 2,300 students.

Cunningham said methods and structures for consolidating Routt County’s school districts could be addressed in a potential analysis, should local educators decide to move forward.

Hickenlooper said local fixes, such as volunteer tutors in classrooms to help over-burdened teachers, could be needed as the state addresses education funding that accounts for 42 percent of Colorado’s budget.

“There’s nothing good about $385 million” in cuts, he said.

Also Wednesday, Hickenlooper said, “We’re all about supporting your bike efforts,” after a question about tourism funding and Steamboat’s potential application for a program that could provide as much as $11 million for local cycling infrastructure through the state’s Regional Tourism Act.

Grant Fenton, chairman of the Bike Town USA Initiative, said he was encouraged by Hickenlooper’s response.

“I think he sees the potential for biking to be a real economic driver for both the state and, specifically, for Steamboat, to be a leader in that — and he acknowledged that he would support Steamboat being a leader in that,” Fenton said. “We sincerely hope we see that support as time goes on.”

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or e-mail


James Earley, MCSE 6 years, 1 month ago

I think the key here really is cost sharing more than consolidation.

For example, Hayden and Moffat County have somewhat combined their Transportation Departments; I believe it saves each district about 20k a year.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 1 month ago

The facts that Hayden and Soroco are both less than 500 students and both, according to Scott Ford's data from the school district, already officially have more than 10% of students living in their district attending SB schools implies to me that a substantial number of parents have already voted with their student's enrollment.

Considering the logistical challenges of attending a school 20+ miles from home then it is would be expected that there are other parents in those districts that would like to have their kids educated by SB schools.

I would expect the consolidated districts to want to be treated a bit like charter schools with an advisory local board. I'd guess that SB would be fine with that because SB doesn't really want to deal with all of the local issues. The bigger objective from the SB point of view would be reducing administrative costs and standardizing and improving local education.


kathy foos 6 years, 1 month ago

Schools are the main thing everyone cares about.Better watch those cuts where the school is concerned,if we dont have local schools ,that will make me feel like not paying taxes.Thats too far to ship kids to Steamboat.How about Steamboat brings their kids to South Routt and Hayden?


callguinness 6 years, 1 month ago

I don't think any of this consolidation talk is about closing schools anywhere. The idea here is to shrink administration.

South Routt, Hayden and Steamboat would keep their schools. Shipping kids over that distance would be excessive when the structures to teach them already exist. This is a discussion of administration.

Do we really need to be funding 3 separate administrations in this county? I don't have enough information right now to say yes or no. However I'm interested to see how this plays out and get that information before I make any kind of solid decision. Sometimes this blog is great because of the information we can be pointed to, sometimes its awful, because we make assumptions of what we think is going to happen and dig our heals in with no information at all.


kyle pietras 6 years, 1 month ago

There may be some fat to trim, but this is a huge budget "short fall". So sad that schools get the short end of the stick. This is our future, our children deserve the best we can give them, not excuses!


bcpow 6 years, 1 month ago

1 Sup 1 board representing the 3 districts This should have been done years ago.


sledneck 6 years, 1 month ago

If people really believed schools were worthy of more investment they would put funds there instead of into things like Iron Horse and Emerald Mt. Rather than make choices people want everything they see and cry like typical children when they cant have it.

Limited resources - Alternate uses.


max huppert 6 years, 1 month ago

sounds like the gov already decided its going to happen, I bet it will happen faster then anyone thinks. maybe they can put in a light rail service from hayden and oak creek then they dont need the bus either, plus less cars.. Go light rail :) and make it free!!


sledneck 6 years, 1 month ago

Let's build a multi-billion dollar rail system and make it free! Maybe we can get the unicorns to build it for us?. And maybe, instead of electricity, it can be powered by rainbows and ferry dust!


exduffer 6 years, 1 month ago

Sled, will we have to borrow the fairy dust from China?


housepoor 6 years, 1 month ago

So according to this reporter the meeting with the Governor was about our school district consolidation and he briefly mentioned our “bike efforts”? Wasn’t this talk supposed to be about economic development?


Scott Wedel 6 years, 1 month ago

It would be one board serving one all of Routt County school district. The cost savings would be much less if there were still 3 boards with 3 budgets to administer and 3 slightly different set of policies to follow. There could still be local PTA and advisory groups that could help the school district deal with local issues.

No one is forcing Hayden or South Routt students to attend school in SB so it makes no sense to suggest SB students should be forced to attend schools outside of SB.

Budget cuts are never fun, but it does cause organizations to scrutinize priorities. How much is it worth to have the administrative overhead of a small school district?


JusWondering 6 years, 1 month ago

Consolidation does not mean closing school buildings! It means gaining efficiencies where you can. How is it that other counties in the State can consolidate (Jefferson County as an example) and still maintain their unique identities and we are worried about it here? It would not neven necessarily mean that one child is displaced (unless this consolidated district implements "school of choice" rules) It simply does not make sense to have: 3 superintendents 3 school boards 3 part-time "specials" teachers 3 finance departments 3 technology & support staffs ... and so on.

Many other States that spend more $$ on instruction than administration are consolidated at a county level.

My simple "back of the napkin" math would see an easy realized savings of over $1 m a year with very little impact to parents or students.

For those of you worried about student impact; I would imagine that there was more impact to students when Yampa and Oak Creek school districts were consolidated than with this kind of consolidation. A truly draconian approach would be to close all of the schools and bus all of the kids into Steamboat from outlying communities. Not really a practical or necessary one.

Also for you South Routt parents, I would think that you would be concerned about the quality of education our children are receiving. Soroco has consistently performed below average in math (look at the CSAP pass rate) for decades with the excuse being that the caliber of teacher needed won't work for the pay that Soroco's small district can pay. Perhaps this would be a solution? As an alum, in my undergraduate and graduate work math was a struggle all due to the poor preparation received at Soroco (loudly cursing the math department). In what world is a less than 50% pass rate "quality"?


CONative 6 years, 1 month ago

I wish the folks putting together the guest list for this event would have invited local non-profit leaders; many non-profits will be hit hard by budgetary cuts. Bikes are important, but not as important as meeting the basic needs of our local residents.


Krista Monger 6 years, 1 month ago

juswondering - I hope you know that school boards are not paid, it is a volunteer position.

Hayden only has a half time super, not much savings there, and each school would still need building principals, since teachers are not able to get out of class to take care of discipline, parent phone calls, CSAP paperwork, etc. Hayden is already down to 2 principals.

I don't think either hayden or soroco have a financial department, the board secretary usually does it all.

3 specials... Hayden doesn't even have an elem music or art teacher, the one art teacher for the district is split between MS and HS, same with the only music teacher. So actually, hayden elementary students might be able to finally HAVE specials.

... I hope you also understand that total student enrollment wouldn't change, unless you plan on packing more students in a class, you still need the same amount of teachers. Same goes with support staff, especially since laws dictate what special education services are required, not the local boards.

So as far as I can see, your plan would only save hayden and soroco the cost of a superintendant (or half).

I think this whole idea is a great way for politicians to "talk" about saving money. No way are any of the three communities going to agree to consolidating.


Guinevere 6 years, 1 month ago

"Hickenlooper said local fixes, such as volunteer tutors in classrooms to help over-burdened teachers, could be needed as the state addresses education funding..."

I'm starting to think Gov. H. is clueless about education. The volunteers are almost 100% parents and the ones who will do it are already doing it. What about the older grades - does he think there are suddenly going to be all these new "volunteer tutors" in advanced subjects? What a goofy remark for him to make especially when talking about the drastic level of cuts he's proposing.


greenwash 6 years, 1 month ago

No money for education or our roads BUT somehow we are going to apply for an $11 million dollar grant for bike trails ? Go figure.


babette dickson 6 years, 1 month ago

Hick's visit in the Boat is a total disaster and disapointment. He indeed has no clue on how to handle Education issues, and even propose "some fixes" that are totally irrealistic. I suppose I wasted $30 this summer when I gave him Diane Ravitch's book* for inspiration as a Governor... Maybe HE needs a "volunteer tutor" to help read the book... and really understand the issues. His term is not starting well. Maybe HE needs to go back to beer business... I understand he is good at that!

Make Millions for our kids Hick, not in beer business!

A Must read if you want to understand the complex world of public ed: *: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.


ybul 6 years, 1 month ago

Maybe he can seek emergency powers like is being sought in Michigan and usurp democracy and just make the changes from the top down.


Wendy Villa 6 years, 1 month ago

I'm curious, to all those that think it is simple to just eliminate the salaries and positions of SOROCO and Hayden's superintendents and admin staff and consolidate to just one superintendent, etc do you really think the existing superintendent and staff at Steamboat will gladly just take on the extra work load for the same pay and not have to hire any additional staff to assist? Because I find that hard to believe.

I can see one benefit though, the distribution of per pupil spending would have to be equal (including the money from the fund board) throughout all the schools so that SOROCO and Hayden would benefit from that but I'm not too sure that Steamboat will be so happy with that idea.


freerider 6 years, 1 month ago

Typical politician making jokes and smirking as the economy is still in the toilet

This guy is a pathetic excuse as a Governor with zero idea's about anything


JusWondering 6 years, 1 month ago

Daisy, Even if you have to give the SB Super a 20% increase you are still ahead of the game. At a minimum each public sector employee costs us the taxpayer their salary plus a minimum of 25% for benefits (typically closer to 60%). Doing so would still have a net savings of 5% at a minimum. Incremental costs are where the savings really are; not just a salary of select individuals.

Kmm; just because a board is a volunteer position does not mean that there are not incremental costs associated with the operation of the board. As far as finances goes, you cannot tell me that no one handles the district finances but a board member. In my line of work I do mergers and acquisitions of multi-billion dollar organizations. It is exactly these kind of incremental cost savings that make a deal worthwhile. Finally, it is not teachers that are expensive... it is the rest of the crap. Teachers are the most underpaid and undervalued staff in a school district; especially good ones! I can imagine in the 50's or 60's (whenever the last merger of districts occurred) the same arguments were being made.

At the end of the day we are robbing from our children and grandchildren to keep staffing the way it is. Hick (I did not vote for the man) brought out the point that k-12 represents nearly 50% of the State budget! No offfense to those of you lamenting about $11 million in biking (money that is NOT well spent IMHO) funds, but cutting that completely and other programs like it doesn't even put a ripple in the pond.

There is a reason that GOVs across the nation are taking steps exactly like this (look at WI)! We can no longer afford to keep doing what we have been doing since the 70's. We are actking like the person who has maxed out their credit cards and is now applying for a new one to try to live off of. The insanity must stop. If you cannot understand the macroeconomic impact of all of this I actually have pity for you. Just wait until the boomers all retire. Some of the models I have seen make this past recession look like a walk in the park.

For one, I am pleased to see Hick at least step up and say it has to stop; even if he is clueless about how to fix it.


jerry carlton 6 years, 1 month ago

One overpaid superintendent would be better than 2 and 1/2 overpaid superintendents.


pitpoodle 6 years, 1 month ago

I am glad Hickenlooper has made these suggestions. As for The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, personally, I don't buy that philosophy. I may regret saying this but Hick may just become a really great governor.


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