Our View: Something’s got to give, School Board

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Editorial Board, January through May 8, 2011

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Traci Day, community representative
  • Dean Vogelaar, community representative

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The Steamboat Springs School District seemingly will be able to spare fifth-grade band and elementary Spanish from getting the ax.

We’re not sure that’s a decision worth celebrating. While it might make a few parents happy, it doesn’t inspire confidence that the School Board is serious about making the tough choices taxpayers should expect.

To be fair, the board won’t make a final decision on these elementary programs until June 6, and we’re not talking about a whole lot of money. The district’s elementary school principals, asked to make budget cuts to programs at their schools, had proposed cutting the part-time fifth-grade band program in half and eliminating two Spanish grades, leaving one year of instruction. The principals thought there were bigger priorities. In the end, Superintendent Shalee Cunningham appears to have saved the programs by pulling plans to restore a curriculum director position at a cost of $68,000.

This isn’t about the fifth-grade band program, the elementary Spanish program or even the addition of a curriculum director, though we are skeptical that any of those would provide educational value equal to its cost. Rather, this is about the School Board ducking difficult choices at a time when economic factors — and common sense — dictate they should, even if they don’t necessarily have to.

After asking principals to prepare budgets at 100, 96 and 90 percent of last year’s funding, Cunningham said she was “elated” the district ultimately will be able to fund budgets at 100 percent. But Cunningham, who leaves for a California school district in summer, ended Monday’s meeting with this caveat: “At some point, our community’s reality is we can’t have it all. We’re fortunate this year will be easier than we all believed. But next year, it won’t be. ... Something’s got to give.”

Why, if something’s got to give, not start now? Why wait until next year?

In December, the School Board awarded step pay raises for teachers and staff when an unexpected bump in enrollment provided extra dollars for the district. We supported that move, but only because we thought the board previously had promised the raises if the funds became available. We didn’t necessarily agree that the increases were a smart fiscal move.

We consistently hear that school funding is in jeopardy, that a looming education crisis is upon us. Indeed, school district Finance Director Dale Mellor estimates the district will have to cut about $800,000 from its $28 million budget this year. The cuts are expected to be even bigger next year.

School district taxpayers just got assessor’s notices showing that their home values have fallen 20 to 30 percent, on average, in the past two years and the assessor warns the market is not at the bottom. The unemployment rate has more than tripled in three years. The district’s residents need fiscal prudence from their School Board more than ever before. That means standing up to parents and other advocates when it comes time to cut programs we no longer have the luxury to afford.

As Cunningham said, “something’s got to give.” Maybe not elementary Spanish or fifth-grade band or teacher raises, but certainly something. And there’s no time like the present for the School Board to get started.

Comments

Carrie Requist 2 years, 11 months ago

"...standing up to parents and other advocates when it comes time to cut programs we no longer have the luxury to afford" would make more sense if the fifth grade band and elementary Spanish cuts were being proposed in order to save money, but they were not. They were being cut in order to shift their funds to different programs (an additional instructional support specialist and more technology) and to have the students in the classroom more hours per day. As with any budget, there is never enough to afford everything you want (unless maybe if you are Oprah), but this was not a matter of just cutting back, it was a matter of shifting funds, not cutting funds. There are many educators and parents who believe in the instructional value of music in the form of the fifth grade band program and that keeping the funds there provides a better educational value to more students than shifting them to another instructional aid. That is why there was so much lobbying not to shift the funds. This belief comes not just from gut feel or personal experience but from a large body of research that proves the academic and brain development benefits of music education, especially in elementary. It is fine to argue for fiscal prudence, but that is not what was happening in this case and therefore I find your editorial misleading.

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 11 months ago

From afar it seems that the very expensive school experience is a markedly disfunctional one. Constant turnover and squabbling make me wonder if any information coming out is worth anything. It amazes me that the public has had such patience. I would like to see action taken to investigate and maybe we can get on the right track, so it will not appear that the inmates are running the asylum.

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ybul 2 years, 11 months ago

Curriculum Director $68,000 - Or asking teachers to collaborate to work on Curriculum. It is not like it changes that much, or do we need to reinvent the wheel on how to teach math, english, history, science etc.?

All that desired technology really is not helping at the grade school level and possibly at the middle school level. Just because it is cool does not mean it is actually improving the educational process, it might just make it more expensive and divert resources away from teachers pay.

The busses drive out from the barn pick up the kids, drop them off and then return to the barn. What if the people driving the busses lived at the end of the stop, or drove their car to the end of the line where the bus was parked. Drove it into town, parked it at the school and then preformed a task at the school - making lunch, cleaning, and then drove the bus back to the end of the line at the end of the day.

Maybe the central administration should be done away with entirely, sell the old high school, the vacant land that is owned - put the money into the bonds that the city owes for the library - the promenade and have some extra income.

Throw away the box and think outside the room you used to keep the box in.

Just because this is how it has been done and is done most places does not mean that it is the best way!

Cross train and figure out ways to make people more efficient, in the administrative functions.

Completely off topic, but look at the jail, there are four night guards scheduled every night. The criminals are locked down so why, if there is a rush have the officer who makes an arrest help check them in.

Government seems just so inefficient. But then that is what you get when people are playing with other peoples money. No one spends money better than their own.

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Guinevere 2 years, 11 months ago

"Why wait until next year?" asks the Pilot board. Because you don't cut important and beneficial programs for students until you have to, especially when they don't even cost much. The budget situation is constantly changing and we don't know yet what it will look like for 2012-2013, even if the signs aren't good. There are many variables in the funding puzzle. Colorado is ranked 49th in per pupil funding in the country, Mr. Duckels, and if you had a child currently in the system, you would see that there is not as much waste as you think (aside from what appears to be an unsustainable retirement system) and some of the cuts that have already been made have hurt kids. Cutting education is a very poor plan for the future of our economy.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 11 months ago

Guinevere Was buying out our previous Superintendent's contract a waste of money? Is the continual expense of hiring new Superintendents a waste of money. The problem with schools is not a lack of money but the continuing decline of morality in this country, the shift towards liberalism, the death of the two parent family, the endless flow of illegal immigrants into the country, and last but not least the removal of God from the schools. Yes, I am an old guy and went to school in the 50's and 60,s. Most of my generation believed in God, respected authority and recieved good educations. Vietnam, Woodstock, Hippies, and the San Fransisco free love liberals started a downward spiral in this country that has continued till today.

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sledneck 2 years, 11 months ago

We spend more money on education than ever; teachers are more SELF-interested than ever; parents protect and indulge the kids more than ever; we give more trophies than ever; we excuse more bad behavior than ever. And the kids are STUPIDER THAN EVER.

One would think we would have the good sense to go the OPPOSITE direction for a while but those running the "public fool system" are, themselves, victims of it.

I just finished a great autobiography by Walter E Williams. One of the things he attributes to his success was being lucky enough to have been educated back in a time when teachers would tell him the truth rather than excuse his ignorance on the basis of his race or other circumstances. Today we make excuses. Our problem with education is that it is being run by the same people who run Amtrack, the post office, the DMV, purchase the Iron Horse, etc. No amount of money will fix it.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 11 months ago

I think the pay level of the superintendent is something that should be questioned. With the expectation of a superintendent that serves only a few years and so is likely to be leaving just as they learn the district then why the high pay?

It is also unclear exactly what expertise is being purchased by the high pay. The school seems to hire a new superintendent to continue the course already set. The schools are good and skills worth the bigger pay such as how to turn around a bad school or failing district are not needed here.

There is no inherent reason why they have to stay on the superintendent carousal. They could hire from within and pursue a policy of paying superintendents only modestly more than principals. If someone wants the big money then they can join the troubled unstable district. Such a plan would force the school board to act like responsible adults and expect to work with the existing superintendent and not fire the superintendent after each election. But the savings is real money and enough to pay for one or two threatened programs.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 11 months ago

WOW! A little different slant on things, but Jerry Carlton, slednek and Scott Wedel basically agreeing on one thing. We must be on the right track. Guinivere, we await your reply.

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