Our View: School district consolidation could cut costs
March 6, 2011
Steamboat Springs — It's time to consider bold steps in how we educate our children, including a detailed analysis and consideration of consolidating Routt County's three public school districts into one.
School districts across the state are facing another round of difficult budget cuts in the wake of Gov. John Hickenlooper's proposed $332 million net decrease in state funding for K-12 education next year.
Here in Routt County, an 8 percent decrease in funding could necessitate budget cuts of as much as $1.8 million in the Steamboat Springs School District alone. Any eventual cuts will come on the heels of $1.8 million in cuts that were made for the current school year, and $500,000 in cuts for the 2009-10 school year.
In South Routt, the decrease in school funding could result in lost revenue of $478,000 next year. In Hayden, that number could reach $282,000. And while both of those districts will be helped by voter-approved mill levy overrides that were passed last year, they'll likely still need to trim from their budgets.
Hickenlooper's proposal sends a strong message. K-12 education historically has been more protected from cuts than any other segment of the state budget. But when it makes up 41 percent of the overall budget, it can be protected for only so long — particularly with conflicting constitutional provisions like the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and Amendment 23.
Local school consolidation isn't likely to be a popular scenario, but it very well could be a logical one. A community's strongest identity often is the one it has with its schools. We don't want to see that local passion and pride for schools and their sports diminished. But we do want to see how the overall quality of education for Routt County's children could be improved through the efficiencies of a consolidated school system.
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A thorough analysis of consolidation has not been conducted here, at least that anyone can remember. We challenge the school boards and superintendents in South Routt, Hayden and Steamboat to lead such an effort. What might a unified administrative structure look like? How much money would be saved? And what about cost efficiencies in other areas, including transportation and food services? Perhaps consolidation could be achieved in a way that allows communities to retain their schools and the associated sense of identity and pride?
Emotions are likely to run high with talk of school consolidation. But the emotional response often isn't the rational one. What matters most is how we can provide the best education for our children, and if the answer is a singular Routt County school district, then it's something to which we should all be open.