Soda Creek Elementary School kindergarten students work with iPads during class Friday taught by Grady Turner. Steamboat schools may have more funds available for resources like iPads after the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board decided earlier this month that the Steamboat Springs School District will receive a minimum of $2 million from funds generated by the city’s half-cent sales tax.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Soda Creek Elementary School kindergarten students work with iPads during class Friday taught by Grady Turner. Steamboat schools may have more funds available for resources like iPads after the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board decided earlier this month that the Steamboat Springs School District will receive a minimum of $2 million from funds generated by the city’s half-cent sales tax.

Fund Board agrees on minimum level of funding for Steamboat Springs School District

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— The Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board made an unprecedented move this month when it decided how much the Steamboat Springs School District will receive from the half-cent sales tax for education in 2013 before any of the district’s grant applications received final approval.

The Fund Board decision came after its members expressed concern that the district's share of the available tax revenue has fallen in recent years, while the Hayden and South Routt school districts have seen their shares increase.

The tax revenue first was shared among all three districts in 2008 after Steamboat voters approved the change.

But the Fund Board never has outlined how much each district should receive prior to vetting and approving all of the grants. Instead, the applications from the tax have been evaluated and approved based on their merit, with Steamboat receiving the lion's share of the funding that is generated through spending only in city limits.

Fund Board Vice President Roger Good estimated Monday that Hayden and Soroco's gains in revenue have caused Steamboat to lose out on tens of thousands of dollars during some years.

“It seemed like that was a trend that from my perception did not make sense,” Good said. “And it happened more out of default than design. We decided we needed to look at the funding levels a little more seriously.”

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted unanimously to ensure the Steamboat Springs School District will receive no less than $2 million in grant funding next school year.

The decision means Steamboat will receive at least $54,000 more in grant funding than it did last year, when it was awarded $1.9 million, or 83 percent of the total available funding.

District officials in Steamboat applauded the Fund Board's decision.

“It was a significant step forward from our perspective,” Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said. “I felt it was a recognition of our concerns.”

The vote came after the Fund Board grappled with whether to approve a funding percentage for each district.

Since the tax first was shared, Steamboat typically has received between 83 and 86 percent of the available dollars while Hayden and Soroco each have received between 5 and 7 percent.

Nonprofit community groups that provide educational programming have received the rest.

Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes said Monday he respected the Fund Board's decision to set a floor for Steamboat. He also acknowledged that divvying up the revenue has become more difficult in recent years because less grant money is available.

“I think we started sharing it at a time when the funds available were increasing every year, so Hayden and South Routt could slide in there without affecting Steamboat's funding levels,” Luppes said. “We'd love to maintain our current level of funding, but I understand their point of view on that.”

City of Steamboat voters overwhelmingly supported sharing some of the tax revenue with the neighboring school districts after officials in Hayden and South Routt pointed out that many of their residents contribute to the sales tax revenue by shopping and dining in Steamboat. Many residents in those communities also serve as part of Steamboat’s workforce.

Good said he expects the Fund Board to have future conversations about how to decide how much each school district should receive from the Fund Board each year.

He said some of the initial options include establishing fixed percentages for each district, granting more weight to collaborative grant requests that benefit multiple districts, and continuing the trend of not establishing funding levels and awarding grants based on their merit.

He said each option carries its own pros and cons, and Fund Board members have varying opinions on each of them.

“Whatever we decide, the goal should be that every dollar goes to enhanced academic achievement,” Good said. “If you set that goal and evaluate the grants against that, it seems like a reasonably good way to go.”

The Fund Board is expected to award $2.5 million in grants for next school year. It will hear second readings of all three districts's grant requests next month.

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

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