Steamboat Springs School District’s budget draws passion

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— A preliminary draft of the Steamboat Springs School District’s 2012-13 budget was met with passionate, and, at times, negative responses from the several parents and educators who packed a conference room in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Monday night.

Superintendent Brad Meeks and Finance Director Dale Mellor spent about two hours presenting an early version of the district’s budget that would trim $228,000, or between 1 and 2 percent, next school year in response to a slight cut in state funding, increased contributions to public pension funds and the rising cost of health insurance.

The budget specifically included $671,760 worth of cuts and $449,070 worth of additions and enhancements.

Items on the chopping block included the discretionary budgets at each of the district’s campuses, the campuses’ reserve funds and the district’s upper-level Montessori program, among other things.

Asked by the Steamboat Springs School Board to give feedback on the draft budget, some campus administrators said they were concerned by the proposal to dramatically cut their reserve funds they have accrued throughout years and they sometimes need to spend on capital needs and textbooks.

“It worries me,” middle school principal Tim Bishop told Meeks and the School Board. “It takes a long time to save up that money, and you don’t know when you’ll need it.”

The proposed budget would nix $71,410 in reserve funds from the middle school, $252,880 districtwide and ultimately leave every Steamboat campus with the exception of the Yampa Valley High School with $5,000 in reserve funds.

However, Mellor said the buildings still would be able to pull from discretionary budgets that total $630,000 across the district, and capital needs previously paid for by reserve funds will come from the school district’s budget in the future.

But drawing the most ire at Monday’s meeting wasn’t a proposed reduction. Rather, it was Meeks’ proposal to add a secretary to the district’s front office.

“At a time when we’ve already cut things that directly affect students and are going to cut more, our priority should not be adding staff to the district office,” parent Mary Darcy told Meeks and the School Board. “The superintendent and administrative assistant have salaries and benefits that total $408,320. Perhaps the office needs to rearrange its desks so that someone can see when a visitor walks in the door.” The salary figures could not be immediately verified.

Meeks said the proposed secretary would work with a number of departments in the district’s administrative offices, fill a now-vacant desk and cover for Debbie Ginesta, currently the district’s only administrative assistant. Meeks added that the position would be funded by cost-savings next school year coming from the elimination of the district’s health and wellness fair — budgeted at $31,500 — after the introduction of a new health clinic and a $5,000 reduction in the cost to perform the district’s audit.

Still, the proposal didn’t sit well with at least two School Board members.

“I just don’t think it’s the time” for this proposal, Rebecca Williams said. “I’m disappointed this was brought to us.”

Board member Denise Connelly said the position was “beyond the district’s needs” during tough economic times.

After Monday’s meeting, Meeks said he would consider proposing other alternatives to fill an administrative need at the district office if the new position isn’t approved by the School Board.

He said he welcomed all of the community members’ comments on the budget he proposed Monday night.

“I’m expecting people to continue to come out to the budget process to see where their tax dollars are going to be invested,” he said. “The feedback is welcome. It’s part of our democratic process.”

The School Board will further discuss and refine the budget at a May 17 workshop. They are expected to adopt a final version June 4.

Other meeting highlights

■ The preliminary budget would allow Tier 1 and Tier 2 sports to maintain their funding levels next school year by increasing participation fees for all high school student athletes by $25 to cover a $30,000 shortfall in athletic transportation costs. Fees would increase from $150 per student to $175 per student. Athletic Director Luke DeWolfe said coaching arrangements at the middle school also could be “restructured.” Meeks said the changes would allow both tiers of sports to continue operating as they did this school year. He added the proposal is a short-term solution that would give the district time to “revisit” the tiered structure and come up with a long-term solution before the next budget cycle.

■ Also included in the budget is a proposal to retool both elementary schools’ fifth grade band program. The dedicated band teacher would be cut and the elementary band would be taught during the school day by existing music teachers at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools. Soda Creek Principal Michele Miller said instead of meeting as a large group, students would meet with teachers in smaller woodwind and brass groups one or two days per week.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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