Our View: State calls for outside financial analyst
September 28, 2013
We were encouraged this week to learn that the Colorado Department of Education will test the Steamboat Springs School District's claim that withdrawing from the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services will save it $125,000 annually.
We say that not just because we are skeptical about those projected savings but primarily because we agree with BOCES Executive Director Amy Bollinger. She said Steamboat's withdrawal would hurt students in five other smaller districts in the area, including Hayden and South Routt.
BOCES currently manages and staffs the special education programs for six districts, with North Park, East Grand and West Grand rounding out the group.
The Steamboat district announced in late August that it had applied to the Colorado Department of Education to withdraw from BOCES. This week, Steamboat Springs Superintendent Brad Meeks confirmed that the Department of Education responded by directing the district to retain a third-party financial consultant to study the financial implications of its intended withdrawal. In addition, the district has until Tuesday to send a letter to the state detailing how much money it spends on special education.
Meeks said in late August that his district could more effectively and efficiently manage its own program.
However, as Van Fletcher, Steamboat's first school psychologist and one of the originators of BOCES here, pointed out in a recent letter to the editor, the Steamboat district would have to retain the services of psychologists, speech therapists, audiologists, physical therapists, language teachers and occupational therapists. The other five districts, with severely reduced resources, would have to duplicate that staff. That's really inefficient.
The problem with Meeks' position is that it focuses on what is good for his district and disregards what is good for all of the special-needs children throughout our lightly populated region.
School Board President Brian Kelly did make a valid point in late August when he said Steamboat currently gets just one vote on the BOCES board even though it supplies about 40 percent of the revenue and has 40 percent of the students. That needs to be fixed and it can be fixed. If the other five districts are in agreement that it's essential to keep Steamboat in BOCES, they must be prepared to give ground on that issue.
When they form their conclusions, we hope the Department of Education and the independent financial analyst hired by the Steamboat district will take into consideration the impacts of Steamboat's withdrawal application on the smaller school districts as well as the impacts on youngsters in Steamboat.
As Fletcher wrote, "BOCES is a crucial part of providing an education for everyone within all the school districts."