Our View: Board decision calls into question funding needs
December 20, 2011
Last week's decision by the Steamboat Springs School Board to approve pay raises for district teachers and staff sends a conflicting message to taxpayers about the state of school funding locally.
In a unanimous decision, the School Board signed off on a 2 percent retroactive pay increase for all staff. The total cost of the raises is $272,500, which district officials said will be paid for with surplus revenues from increased student enrollment this fall. The raises are the culmination of two months of negotiations between district leaders and the teachers union.
The raises, effective for the current school year, come on the heels of the district's decision to reinstate a director of curriculum position at a cost of $90,000 per year.
The combined fiscal impact of the raises and the new administrative position is about $330,000 for the 2011-12 school year and necessitates the expenditure of about $50,000 from the district's general fund. However, the impact to the budget will be greater next year, when the availability of surplus revenues is unknown but the base salary increases and the new administrative position will remain in the budget.
So how do the recent expenditures mesh with the dire warnings we've heard from school district officials about future budget cuts caused by an education funding crisis at the state level? Quite frankly, they don't.
It was just a couple of months ago that the School Board was rallying support for Proposition 103, a statewide measure that would have increased the income and sales taxes for five years to raise an estimated $2.9 billion for schools. The ballot measure failed miserably on Election Day.
In the buildup to Nov. 1, School Board members said funding from Prop. 103 would prevent budget cuts for the next five years. Without it, board members all but guaranteed cuts to educational programming here in Steamboat. Even positive news Tuesday about the state's revenue picture isn't likely to solve the mess that is education funding in Colorado.
"Programs are the next level of cuts, and those include P.E., athletics, and things like music classes and art," Board President Brian Kelly said in September.
We're lucky to have a high-performing school district that is among the best in the state. Good faculty and staff are a big part of that success. But school district teachers and staff are yet to go without a pay increase since the economy turned south four years ago, while their counterparts in city and county government have endured mandatory furloughs and salary reductions. Many employees in the private sector have fared much worse.
By approving another round of pay increases for district teachers and staff while also warning of pending programmatic cuts, the School Board will have a hard time garnering sympathy from parents and the community when much more difficult financial decisions must be made in the coming months.