Steamboat Springs To better serve its growing student population, the Steamboat Springs School District is seeking to end its decades-old membership in the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services and manage its own special education program.
The desired withdrawal is not being embraced by BOCES leaders who worry Steamboat's departure will hurt the other five rural school districts it represents.
BOCES currently manages and staffs the special education programs for the districts, but staff members are shared and must spread their time among the Steamboat, Hayden, South Routt, North Park, East Grand and West Grand school districts that span a large geographic area.
Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said Monday his district could more effectively manage its own program.
The district also projects its withdrawal from BOCES, which is now possible under a recent change in state rules, will save the district $125,000 a year.
“Our primary reason for looking into this wasn't the money side of it, it was can we be more efficient?” Meeks said.
He said the district having its own special education director and service providers would be an improvement over the current system that has one special education director oversee all six districts and staff members who travel extensively.
BOCES Executive Director Amy Bollinger told Steamboat's school board on Monday night the district's departure from the organization would have negative consequences for the five smaller member districts.
“Your district is the largest,” Bollinger said. “So (your departure) is going to be a major financial impact on those five districts."
BOCES Finance Director Chloe Flam said Steamboat represents nearly half of the cooperative's entire special education budget, which also is used to support the organization's central office staff. She said the loss of those funds likely would result in staff cuts for BOCES.
BOCES in recent weeks has offered to look into adding a second special education director, but district officials here think a withdrawal from the program still would be more efficient.
Calling it a tough and difficult decision, the Steamboat School Board on Monday night voted unanimously to submit the application to the Colorado Department of Education to formally withdraw from BOCES.
The district intends to remain an associate member and still contract with BOCES to provide physical therapy, assistive technology and support for students with hearing and vision disabilities.
Board President Brian Kelly and other board members said they were empathetic to BOCES' concerns, but they agreed with district officials that the move is likely in the best interest of Steamboat students.
It also would give the district more control over its programming.
“We are basically a senate where we are 40 percent of the revenue and students, but only 16 percent of the vote without a house of representatives,” Kelly said, noting BOCES is governed by a board that includes one member from each district. “Maybe that has to do with how we're not getting the services this district should have.”
After the district's request is submitted, the Department of Education will have 60 days to respond to the request.
If approved, the withdrawal will take effect next school year.
The review of the application is slated to include an independent review of the financial impacts on all of the member districts.
Steamboat's annual special education budget currently totals about $2.1 million.
The district served 273 special education students last school year, a number the district says has grown in recent years.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com