Thursday, October 6, 2011
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Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board on Wednesday night became the third public body in Routt County to endorse a statewide tax increase that would raise revenue for public schools; however, their endorsement was not unanimous.
Roger Good was the only Fund Board member to oppose the endorsement. He questioned whether it was in the board’s best interest to make public their support of a tax increase.
“The downside to this is we’re endorsing a tax increase at a time when public sentiment to it certainly is not positive,” he said.
Good also questioned whether an endorsement from the Fund Board less than a month away from Election Day would have any impact on voters.
Fund Board member Paige Boucher disagreed. She said voters would value the Fund Board’s endorsement.
“If we don’t endorse it, people may think we don’t need it,” she said. She and six other board members voted to endorse the tax increase.
If passed in November, Proposition 103 would increase revenue to public schools in Colorado by an estimated $2.9 billion throughout five years by raising the state’s income tax from 4.63 to 5 percent and the sales tax from 2.9 to 3 percent.
The ballot initative has been endorsed unanimously by the Steamboat and South Routt school boards.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the Fund Board debated whether the Steamboat Springs School District should be allowed to submit for the second year a grant application that combines funding requests for multiple school programs.
In previous years, the Fund Board, which last year distributed $2.3 million to Routt County school districts from a half-cent sales tax, vetted funding for programs such as gifted and talented and English language-learners separately.
Last year, however, the Steamboat school district applied for funding for those and other programs in one application, called a complex grant, which was approved as a single request.
Some Fund Board members said that all funding requests should be applied for separately and that the district’s use of a single application took away from the board’s ability to vet and control where the about $2 million the district receives from the Fund Board each year is spent.
“We have an accountability to vet these grants that we cannot duck or pass on to you,” Fund Board Treasurer Dean Massey told district administrators.
Representatives from the Steamboat school district argued they wanted more flexibility to decide how much money to put into certain programs as the school year progresses. Steamboat Springs School Board member Laura Anderson also said it was a burden on district staff to submit separate grant requests for programs that improve the effectiveness of a classroom.
District staff “spends more time on this application than with the entire budget process,” Anderson said. “We want to keep it as simple as possible.”
District Finance Director Dale Mellor said applying for the funding in one application also helps to reduce “political wrangling” between proponents of certain school programs.
After the discussion, the Fund Board came to what President Kristi Brown called a good compromise. Fund Board members agreed to let Steamboat submit one application for funding programs that aim to increase the effectiveness of the classroom, but the board will have the ability to go through each item to determine whether the amount requested for each program is acceptable.
“I think it was a good decision,” Brown said. “Any way we can simplify the application process will be good for the district.”
The Fund Board currently operates with two 11-member grant committees that evaluate funding requests from school districts. Brown said the board now is moving forward with plans to consolidate those two commissions, called the Education Excellence and Capital and Technology Commissions, into one 11-member commission. With community input, the commission makes recommendations to the Fund Board about whether to approve grants.
She said the consolidation also would make the public body more efficient.
“The primary reason we had multiple commissions in the beginning was to take advantage of the expertise of certain community members as we evaluated grant proposals,” she said. “But what we have seen is technology is integrated into every classroom and every program, so it’s silly to have a separate commission to focus on technology grants.”
— To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com