Proposed elementary instruction changes mark Day 1 of community budget forums

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— The Steamboat Springs School District is only halfway through its Community Budget Forums after seven programs and entities presented at Monday's meeting. So far, the biggest financial shakeup could be seen coming from elementary instruction.

The Steamboat Springs School District is preparing to finalize its 2014-15 performance-based budget throughout the next few months. It is the third time the district has hosted the forums, a program that began when Superintendent Brad Meeks stepped into his role in 2011.

This year, 14 programs and entities, lead by a team and a manager, were asked to put together a minimum of three packets for each presentation. The first is an efficiency package, spelling out potential reductions the programs could shave off to save money. The second was information outlining the current 2013-14 budget, and the final included enhancements or proposed increases above that budget.

Presentations on Monday night were made by elementary instruction, special education, the Yampa Valley Alternative School, English-language learning, gifted and talented, teaching and learning, and health. The remaining seven presentations will take place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Steamboat Springs High School.

“Nothing is set in stone,” Meeks said about the budget presentations. “And we’ll be getting feedback and, more than likely, making adjustments.”

Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal Michele Miller and Soda Creek Elementary School Principal Tracy Stoddard presented the potential elementary instruction budget changes.

The current elementary budget is set at $5.3 million. Miller and Stoddard compiled a $47,000 efficiency package, proposing trims to its school-based mentors and the $10 student paper fee as well as eliminating one full-time paraprofessional.

But the principals also presented three separate packages totaling more than half a million dollars combined beyond its current budget. The elementary schools are requesting that each of their half-time assistant principals and half-time interventionists be upgraded to full time as well as getting more money dedicated to paraprofessionals and attention to full-time kindergarten.

Elementary instruction also is seeking an increase by $244,000 on its 2014-15 budget to dedicate to two full-time science specialists and two full-time physical education/health specialists.

It’s a response, Miller and Stoddard said, to a variety of things, such as increased enrollment and extra demands from statewide programs like the READ Act and the educator effectiveness evaluation system.

“With additional students, having a full-time assistant principal would be a great support,” Miller said, adding later that other proposed budget increases would afford students a more “meaningful experience” during the school day.

District Curriculum Director Marty Lamansky also presented the English-language learning package, which is looking to add an extra full-time specialist in each elementary school to address its growing needs. The move would be a $122,000 budget increase.

“We’ve seen a marked increase in ELL population in the district,” Lamansky said. “But what you see in our ELL population is it’s very heavy at the elementary level.”

Potential changes to the district’s gifted and talented program also were presented, with an extra full-time coordinator requested. Possible restructures of its program also were discussed, a move Meeks said could open more opportunities for students to be involved in gifted and talented studies.

The budget forum marks one of the beginning stages toward eventual adoption of a 2014-15 budget in June.

Based on feedback culled from the two-day budget forums, Meeks and District Finance Director Dale Mellor will rank the 14 proposals. From there, the Steamboat Springs School Board will review the rankings and recommendations by its predecessors at the May 5 meeting.

“I think overall I feel pretty good about it,” Meeks said about the early budget stages. “We don’t know exactly how much revenue is coming in, but by May, we should have a really good idea about that.”

Presentations Tuesday will be made by middle school instruction, high school instruction, athletics and activities, maintenance, transportation, technology and the district office.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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