District consolidation questioned in South Routt School District | SteamboatToday.com

District consolidation questioned in South Routt School District

School Board expresses concern about school closings during Thursday night meeting

Jack Weinstein

— South Routt School Board President Tim Corrigan thinks consolidating Routt County's public school districts would mean closures. And closures wouldn't sit well with South Routt residents, he said during the board's Thursday night meeting in Oak Creek.

"I think it's important everybody recognize how important the schools are to the community," Corrigan said. "If you take the high school and middle school out of Oak Creek, you might as well close the doors to Oak Creek."

South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader said he included the consolidation discussion on the board's meeting agenda to dispel any "rumors and untruths" about the possibility that the Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts be combined into one.

The issue of consolidation surfaced earlier this month in the wake of significant proposed K-12 education budget cuts at the state level. Gov. John Hickenlooper's proposed 2011-12 budget includes a net reduction in K-12 spending of $332 million. That's on top of this year's cut of $260 million.

During a stop in Steamboat Springs on March 9, Hickenlooper suggested the state consider reducing its 178 school districts by nearly two-thirds, to about 60, to eliminate duplication of services and costs that can result from multiple superintendents and administrative teams serving multiple districts in one region.

The Pilot & Today's Editorial Board also called for serious consideration of district consolidation in an opinion piece published in the March 6 Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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Officials from the Education Fund Board, which allocates the city of Steamboat Springs half-cent sales tax for education, said March 10 that they would discuss the possibility of paying for a study to examine consolidation.

The South Routt School Board didn't take any formal action Thursday, instead simply discussing the issue.

Corrigan said he interprets consolidation to mean combining administrations. He speculated that any savings would be lost when teacher salaries in Hayden and South Routt are raised to equal those in Steamboat.

He said the only way to realize savings would be through school closures, which he doesn't think makes sense given the large geographic area of Routt County.

Corrigan asked Gena Hange, the School Board's nonvoting Fund Board representative, to implore the group to not spend money studying consolidation because he thought it was a waste of money.

Corrigan said he suspects that none of the three districts have any desire to consolidate.

"I think what's frustrating about this is no one wants to consolidate," he said. "Hayden doesn't want to consolidate. Soroco doesn't want to consolidate and Steamboat doesn't want to consolidate."

Mader said South Routt would consider consolidation under one circumstance: "We're all for consolidation if they send their kids here," he joked.

In other action, the School Board approved 2011-12 salaries for Mader — subject to negotiations, meaning the specifics of his contract would be discussed at a later meeting — secondary Principal Dennis Alt and elementary Principal Raylene Olinger.

Alt and Olinger also could be eligible for raises should the School Board approve salary step increases for faculty and staff in spring. As of now, the preliminary 2011-12 budget doesn't include salary step increases or cost-of-living adjustments for employees.

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or e-mail jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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