Education Fund Board to review $2.62 million in grants in May | SteamboatToday.com

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Education Fund Board to review $2.62 million in grants in May

— One way to gauge an uptick or recession in the local economy is to sit in on one of the final Steamboat Springs Grant Commission or Education Fund Board meetings of the year, Commission Chair Stuart Handloff said.

When sales tax numbers dwindle, grant funds earmarked for Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts fall along with it.

But in his fourth go-around in the grant approval process, Handloff said Wednesday's Grant Commission meeting — which decided final recommendations for the Education Fund Board to approve or deny next month — an increase in funding from previous years was noticeable.

"In the past it's gotten emotional or testy when the pie was shrinking and expenses across the districts increased," Handloff said. "We turned the corner last year a bit, and definitely did this year."

More than $2.62 million in grant funding for Steamboat, Hayden and South Routt school districts received initial approval Wednesday with final review by the Fund Board set for May 14. That amount is $250,691 more that was handed out in grants this school year.

Each of the three districts is slated to receive more funds than the previous year, Fund Board President Kristi Brown said.

The districts were asked before Wednesday's meeting to identify 2014-15 grant proposals with breakdowns in sub-categories outlining where specific dollars would be allocated. By the Fund Board's request, the districts also were asked to highlight "self-identified priorities" for their most pertinent needs.

If the Fund Board approves the grant requests, South Routt students could gain a new science teacher. The district also was approved to receive $120,000 in technology grants for May's second reading and budget adoption.

"We are very excited about that," Handloff said about the prospect of an additional science instructor in South Routt. "The mission of the Fund Board is what is going to have the most bang for the buck in terms of educational improvements and educational advancements for students."

Steamboat has $2,345,332 in grant requests on the table for second reading. One of the district's most significant requests is in the technology department, where $830,100 will be used for such items as software ($130,000) and staffing ($65,000).

Steamboat will go forward without the initial grant requests tied to the new computer-based state testing requirements, an unfunded mandate from the state that has left some schools searching for answers as to how to facilitate electronic needs.

A breakdown of 2014-15 Steamboat technology requests shows the district needing $290,100 to help with testing needs such as furniture and storage, an HVAC system and construction costs. The district did not list the needs in its self-identified priorities, though.

"No one was really excited about using Fund Board tax dollars for testing," Handloff said. "The whole idea is it rubs people the wrong way. The state is mandating these and not funding it."

Handloff noted that though the districts could get a combined quarter of a million dollars more in grants than the current school year, not every district will get exactly what it wants.

"The requests at the beginning were hundreds of thousands more," he said.

Handloff said community input in the grant process was dismal.

In contentious years when grant money was slim and demands were higher, the Commission and Fund Board members would work well into the night determining how to divide the money.

"I would really hope that when we get to the point where we make recommendations with real money there would be public comment," Handloff said. "This was the first meeting I've been to where there was no one at all. I thought it would be the one with the most interest."

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