Our View: Allocate revenues based on merit
March 13, 2012
Editor’s note: Information about Steamboat Springs School District’s Education Fund Board grant request has been updated.
Revenue from the city of Steamboat Springs' half-cent sales tax for education should not be treated as a de facto subsidy for the Steamboat Springs School District. Thus, the Education Fund Board should continue to approve grant requests based solely on merit and outcomes, no matter which organization or body submits the request.
That's not necessarily the way Steamboat Springs School Board officials see things, as board member Robin Crossan made clear last week by questioning the value of funding requests from community groups, when such requests could come at the expense of what the Steamboat school district wants.
We hope Fund Board members don't lose sight of the fact that many of the education-oriented, nonprofit community groups are requesting a small amount of money for the continuation of longstanding and successful school-based programs. And we wish the Steamboat Springs School District would focus more on producing its own strong, outcome-based funding requests than worrying that some of the community tax dollars might go to other entities.
A quick primer on the Education Fund Board and its grants process:
The Steamboat Springs Education Fund was created by the city of Steamboat Springs in the early 1990s, when voters approved a half-cent sales tax that would be dedicated to educational purposes. Voters since have extended the tax on three occasions, the most recent of which also asked Steamboat voters if it was OK to share some of the revenues with the Hayden and South Routt school districts.
It is important to note that nothing in the language of the tax initiatives specifies that the tax revenues be spent on or for public school districts.
The Fund Board is a volunteer group of residents who oversee the tax revenues. A grants committee vets individual requests each year from school districts and other organizations that aim to improve local education.
Historically, the Fund Board has allocated most of its revenues to the Steamboat Springs School District. That's not surprising, but funds also have been used to assist with public school-based programs such as the Yampa Valley Science School run by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and mentoring programs operated by Partners in Routt County.
Now, with school districts continuing to face budget shortfalls, Crossan and other Steamboat school officials have begun to view the community organizations as a threat to what they perceive to be the school district's money.
The Fund Board has $2.5 million to allocate for the 2012-13 school year. The Steamboat Springs School District submitted grant requests of $3 million that would cover the salaries of more than 40 district employees and would fund all-day kindergarten, among a number of other things. The district since has withdrawn all-day kindergarten from its request. The Fund Board has told the school district to further reduce its pared-down requests of $2.6 million.
That's as it should be. The school district has no more right to the Fund Board revenue than any other entity. And while we have no beef with the Steamboat school district seeking more funding than other organizations, its requests should be confined to specific, non-essential education programs that have measurable outcomes.
It's disheartening to see School Board members attack requests from nonprofit community groups like Yampatika, Partners in Routt County and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. In our mind, the programs provided by those agencies are exactly the kinds of educational "extras" the community intended to fund when they approved the half-cent sales tax.
The total amount of money requested from the Fund Board by community groups makes up less than 4 percent of what the Fund Board plans to allocate this year. The requests of $2.6 million from the Steamboat Springs School District comes to 104 percent of what the Fund Board has to dole out.
It bears repeating — revenues from the half-cent sales tax for education belong to the community, not to any one school district. And Fund Board decisions on how to allocate those revenues should be based solely on educational merit. Steamboat school officials would be wise to keep that perspective in mind.