Our View: District should stick to mission

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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 School District ought to focus its energies on providing the best possible education for our children, not on competing with private enterprise for a food service contract at Colorado Mountain College.

Fortunately, the School Board has the chance to stop this potential boondoggle. A vote on whether to bid on the CMC Alpine Campus food services job is scheduled for the board’s Jan. 23 meeting. The vote should be a resounding “no.”

School Board members were split on the issue when it arose at their meeting last week. They ultimately had to postpone a final decision for two weeks because the food services contract was not included as an action item on the board’s meeting agenda.

The proposal is the work of Max Huppert, the school district’s ambitious director of nutritional services. His 10-person team currently puts out between 800 and 1,000 meals per day to the district’s K-12 students. According to the proposal submitted to Alpine Campus officials, Huppert’s staff would increase by 15 employees to help meet the demands of providing breakfast, lunch and dinner at CMC seven days each week, as well as operate its restaurant/cafe. The school district also would move most of its cooking operations to the Alpine Campus’ yet-to-be-completed 60,000-square-foot academic facility with an expansive commercial kitchen.

The contract would be for five years, and Huppert said he could generate $140,000 in new revenue in the first year alone despite charging CMC students less per meal than they’re currently paying. The cost of school district lunches would remain the same. According to the proposal, that new revenue would be split between the school district and the college.

Huppert, Superintendent Brad Meeks and at least two School Board members are excited by the potential of the contract. At last week’s board meeting, Meeks said the proposal could provide some school district students access to CMC’s new culinary arts program. He also suggested the potential partnership with the college could lead to additional future opportunities.

We agree with Meeks that expanded educational opportunities such as access to a culinary arts program is important for school district students, but we don’t think such collaboration is predicated on whether our public school district wins the food services contract for the college. Indeed, the district and CMC already have a strong relationship.

More importantly, we’re troubled by the very nature of a taxpayer-funded entity competing for a service currently provided by the private sector. We’re skeptical of Huppert’s revenue projections and about adding 15 district employees to provide food services for an outside entity. Is our school district really prepared to accept the operational risks inherent in this five-year proposal?

Our school district’s mission is to provide a first-class education for its students. With such small potential upside and plenty of sizable risks, there’s no reason for our School Board to support a plan to provide food services to Colorado Mountain College.

Comments

Scott Ford 2 years, 3 months ago

This editorial touches on all the right points of why this is not an opportunity SSSD-RE-2 should pursue. The reasons organizations have mission statements is to help them stay focused. To put it simply, just because you can do something does not mean you should.

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mtnluver 2 years, 3 months ago

I concur with the these comments. Even though this idea may sound good, I believe there will be other complicated ramifications involved with this decision. In a time when the Colorado public schools are struggling to pay their help and keep class sizes numbers low, our school board needs to stay focused and competent in the job "we the voters" elected them to do! So far, the boards performance has become less impressive with their decision making as of late! I will refrain from elaboration and save it for future board meetings. I believe that our school district could offer a culinary program through our high school and fund it with the new $100k they appropriated for an extension of administration that was not needed!

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gldrlmmh 2 years, 3 months ago

Just what do you think it takes to provide a "first class education" these days? Obviously not money, as witnessed by the demise of Prop 103 --athough it's perfectly correct to support a private enterprise like the Ski Corp with sales tax dollars.
What a great diatribe against innovation and creativity! These are the things missing in most of our public service entities, a root cause of stagnation in so much of our public sector. Of course there is risk involved, but it should be a calculated risk decided upon by the board, weighing the advantages and disadvantages. I am not privy to the details of this proposal, but I would expect that an editorial squashing it would have more to say than let's keep the public sector from competing with the private sector. Doing the same thing we've always done, and expecting different results, is the definition of insanity. I believe the board is to be commended, rather than chastised, for examining this proposal.

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Sstreet 2 years, 3 months ago

Not sure how this would interfere with the 'education' of our children. It seems as though it would be a great opportunity for a future culinary arts program with our younger students. From what I understand, Max and the program isn't asking for money from the school district and is planning to bring in money for the program. It is a win-win situation. Why is it such a big deal? I agree with the above- we vote down prop 103, support the ski area with new taxes, but are making a fuss about this - come on!!!

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1999 2 years, 3 months ago

I applaud Max and his creativity, drive, determination and vision.

This sounds like a win win for me.

Lets make some changes and see how it goes.

Worst case scenerio is that it fails miserably...in which case I trust that Max has the vison, determination, drive and creativity to make something work. Hes no dummy. Hes done such a great job at the schools...I trust his ideas. He wouldn't just walk away he'd make it work.

I think 5 years is a reasonable time to get this implimented and up and running smoothly.

Team Max!

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Scott Ford 2 years, 3 months ago

Hi Gldrlmmh - You ask a very good question regarding what it takes to provide a first class education. Without question there is more to learning than what occurs within a classroom. However, without a strong foundation in the academic fundamentals of reading, writing, math, and science other learning opportunities are diminished.

The SSSD-RE2 has been recognized for two consecutive years as a district Accredited With Distinction. There were only 14 school districts out of the 187 school districts in Colorado that received this accountability ranking during the 2010/11 school year. To do it two years in a row is impressive. (Only 8 school districts have maintained this ranking for two consecutive years.)

There are several elements that go into this accountability rating and it is no easy task to accomplish them on a district wide basis. The four key areas are summarized for SSSD-RE2 as follows: Academic Achievement (CSAP Scores) / Exceeded Statewide standards at all grade levels Academic Growth - (To put this simply, are students learning enough in their current grade to prepare them to be successful for the next?) / SSSD-RE2 meets Statewide Standards Academic Growth Gaps (Are students identified with gaps in grade level learning being given the attention that the gaps are being narrowed?) SSSD-RE2 meets statewide standards. Post-Secondary & Workforce Readiness = SSSD-RE2 Exceeded Statewide standards.

Nevertheless, the answer to your question, remains, "What does it take to provide a first class education?" Although no measurement assessment is perfect in answering this question - SSSD-RE2 appears to be doing what it takes to make it happen. Can more be done? Absolutely! Is there more to learning than academic skills? Absolutely!

From an economic development perspective, achieving and maintaining this ranking is far more valuable than any economic incentives government agencies local/state can do in attracting, expanding and retaining businesses in our area. In the arena of economic development as a community, we want the School Board, Dr. Meek and the SSSD-RE2 staff to stay focused primarily on this achieving and maintaining this ranking. Having Max cook for the college is a distraction.

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Scott Ford 2 years, 3 months ago

Hi 1999 - You highlight one of the key weaknesses associated with this idea. It is dependent on MAX. If at some point in the future Max goes away for whatever reason - does this idea stand on its own merits? Beyond the drift in mission, this has to be one of the most fundamental questions the SSSD-RE2 School Board must answer. They have a fiduciary responsibility to answer this question.

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sledneck 2 years, 3 months ago

What does it take to provide a first class education? Most of the time a private school and kids that are motivated by dicipline and competition, two things almost completely lacking in government schools.

What is the "root cause of stagnation" in the public sector? A complete lack of competition, accountability and consequences.

Serve more food; serve less food. Doesn't matter; government schools will not improve either way.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 3 months ago

The flaw with the plan is not that it competes with the private sector, but with who now becomes responsible if the business plan doesn't work as planned. A plan that seems mostly inspired by a desire to split projected profits is a horrible structure when it doesn't work as expected. A plan with school district employees using CMC facilities lacks clear responsibility and so creates huge areas of potential disputes if a business plan fails to work as planned.

If there are significant efficiencies to be gained by using new CMC facilities then CMC and school district should work together on requesting a joint bid for CMC and school district food service using CMC's new facilities. If the business plan is that solid then Max or whomever could keep half of the projected profits and it'd still be a good deal for CMC and school district. Because then neither CMC and school district have put their finances at risk if the plan doesn't work and there is now one company responsible for both food services. And so the school district and/or CMC can demand that conditions of the contract be met or so on.

I think it is less of a problem that the plan depends upon Max because ultimately he could be replaced. He has been in the valley for a while and he is not such a transcendental talent that where works is incredibly wonderful that then falls apart when he leaves. He is good, but not such an unique talent that couldn't be replaced.

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 3 months ago

It is a natural tendency for government entities to propogate themselves. The tendency for "empire building" is very tempting and many take challenges like this as a chance to practice their visonary ability. After the Iron Horse and AH fiascos it should be evident by now the folly of allowing government personell to gamble with public funds. In the area of public works this was rampant in the past as government entities would decide to become contractors. The liability problems are much more severe today and this has curtailed most of this activity. the tendency now is to transfer the risk to the private sector where it belongs..

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Sailors6 2 years, 3 months ago

My concerns follows along the same lines as above. I would like the school district to concentrate on our students that are attending the schools of their responsibility. I would like to know where the start up money will come from. I understand that the equipment will be provided by the college, but who will pay for the food? Overhead start up costs will be quite large for this type of venture. Will that money come from the School district budget? Does the school district have that money in the exsisting budget? We have 2300 students in the school dstrict. 1000 student eat at the schools. Where do the other 1300 eat? If the district has money to seek new venture, may I propose we focus it on getting the other 1300 students to eat at the school. It seems to me another 1300 student would help with the desired revenue increase.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 3 months ago

Fred's comment on empire building or at least retaining power is probably why the far more important local educational reform has gone nowhere - merging the local school districts. An extraordinary high percentage of students living in Hayden and Soroco school districts go to SB schools. Hayden and Soroco are so small that they end paying far more per student for their superintendents than SB does for SB's overpaid superintendent.

It is really quite sad seeing the economic lifeblood being sucked out of Hayden and Soroco as some parents manage to send their kids to SB schools and others with young kids move to SB. While Hayden and Soroco school districts are also both short of money and seek to raise property taxes that are already much higher than those in SB.

The goal of providing a better education is certainly not what is keeping the districts from trying to figure out how to merge. The reason there is little pressure to merge is that Hayden and Soroco parents that care most about sending their kids to better schools are able to do so by sending them to SB schools. And so those parents don't show up at Hayden or Soroco school board meetings demanding better local schools comparable to SB's schools. For instance, CSAP math scores for Hayden high schools students are an absolute disgrace and yet it does not cause a local uproar. Why? Because the parents that would be so upset have already sent their kids to SB schools. And parents new to the area that care most about their children's education see those scores and will not consider living in Hayden. So the horrendous math scores are not that big of an issue for the Hayden School Board.

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