Our View: Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board on right track

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Editorial Board, Sept. 25, 2011, to January 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter

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The Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board would be wise to continue its recent practice of not funding administrative positions for Routt County school districts. Instead, that money should go to classroom and programmatic “extras” that districts otherwise couldn’t fund.

That’s exactly the direction the Fund Board has gone in recent years, but the discussion came up again last week as the volunteer board prepares for a new year of funding requests from the Steamboat Springs, South Routt and Hayden school districts. Last year, the Steamboat Springs School District requested funding for a curriculum director position that had been cut for budgetary reasons from the district’s budget the previous year. The Fund Board tabled the request after getting some blowback from a small group of teachers and parents.

The Steamboat Springs School Board recently approved the reinstatement of a curriculum director position for the current school year, and Superintendent Brad Meeks said the district doesn’t plan to ask the Fund Board to pay for the six-figure position. Routt County’s two other school superintendents similarly said they don’t plan to ask for funding for administrative positions from the pot of money generated by Steamboat’s half-cent sales tax for education.

That’s a good thing, and here’s why: We think public school districts ought to budget each year as if the Steamboat Springs Education Fund doesn’t exist. Districts should prioritize their expenditures based on the revenues they will generate from the state’s per-pupil funding formula. If certain administrative positions aren’t deemed important enough for the district to allocate money for, then they’re probably not essential to the success of the school system.

In this manner, the Fund Board can return to its roots — being an organization that pays for programs deemed important by the overall community that has, on four separate occasions, approved the half-cent sales tax. Traditionally, those programs have emphasized small class sizes and increased technology in classrooms.

Of course, there’s an inherent conflict in such an approach, namely that fly-by-night programs pushed through by small groups of parents or others may not resonate with the district’s curriculum or be sustainable in future years. That’s one reason the Steamboat Springs School Board passed a gift acceptance policy a couple of years ago that makes sure school board members consider the potential impacts of Fund Board grants before accepting them.

That policy was a good move, and it provides another concrete reason why Fund Board dollars shouldn’t go to administrative positions: With no guarantee the Fund Board would continue to pay for such a position from one year to the next, school districts would find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to either pick up a previously unbudgeted salary or let go of an administrative position and deal with the ramifications of unfinished — perhaps even wasted — work.

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