Our View: Something’s got to give, School Board
May 7, 2011
The Steamboat Springs School District seemingly will be able to spare fifth-grade band and elementary Spanish from getting the ax.
We're not sure that's a decision worth celebrating. While it might make a few parents happy, it doesn't inspire confidence that the School Board is serious about making the tough choices taxpayers should expect.
To be fair, the board won't make a final decision on these elementary programs until June 6, and we're not talking about a whole lot of money. The district's elementary school principals, asked to make budget cuts to programs at their schools, had proposed cutting the part-time fifth-grade band program in half and eliminating two Spanish grades, leaving one year of instruction. The principals thought there were bigger priorities. In the end, Superintendent Shalee Cunningham appears to have saved the programs by pulling plans to restore a curriculum director position at a cost of $68,000.
This isn't about the fifth-grade band program, the elementary Spanish program or even the addition of a curriculum director, though we are skeptical that any of those would provide educational value equal to its cost. Rather, this is about the School Board ducking difficult choices at a time when economic factors — and common sense — dictate they should, even if they don't necessarily have to.
After asking principals to prepare budgets at 100, 96 and 90 percent of last year's funding, Cunningham said she was "elated" the district ultimately will be able to fund budgets at 100 percent. But Cunningham, who leaves for a California school district in summer, ended Monday's meeting with this caveat: "At some point, our community's reality is we can't have it all. We're fortunate this year will be easier than we all believed. But next year, it won't be. … Something's got to give."
Why, if something's got to give, not start now? Why wait until next year?
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In December, the School Board awarded step pay raises for teachers and staff when an unexpected bump in enrollment provided extra dollars for the district. We supported that move, but only because we thought the board previously had promised the raises if the funds became available. We didn't necessarily agree that the increases were a smart fiscal move.
We consistently hear that school funding is in jeopardy, that a looming education crisis is upon us. Indeed, school district Finance Director Dale Mellor estimates the district will have to cut about $800,000 from its $28 million budget this year. The cuts are expected to be even bigger next year.
School district taxpayers just got assessor's notices showing that their home values have fallen 20 to 30 percent, on average, in the past two years and the assessor warns the market is not at the bottom. The unemployment rate has more than tripled in three years. The district's residents need fiscal prudence from their School Board more than ever before. That means standing up to parents and other advocates when it comes time to cut programs we no longer have the luxury to afford.
As Cunningham said, "something's got to give." Maybe not elementary Spanish or fifth-grade band or teacher raises, but certainly something. And there's no time like the present for the School Board to get started.