Fund Board plans PR blitz | SteamboatToday.com

Fund Board plans PR blitz

Officials concerned about voters supporting education tax renewal

Mike McCollum

— Members of the Education Fund Board aren’t taking any chances when it comes to getting voter approval to extend Steamboat Springs’ half-cent sales tax for education. On Wednesday, Fund Board members agreed to hire a public relations firm to help market the future tax renewal question, which likely will be put to voters in 2008 or 2009.

First passed in 1993 and later extended by voters in 1996 and 1999, the city’s half-cent sales tax generates more than $2 million a year for educational programs and projects. Almost all of those funds are gifted to the Steamboat Springs School District.

Throughout the years, the tax revenues have allowed the district to hire extra teachers to keep class sizes small, purchase computers, offer an elementary Spanish program, and hire a director of curriculum and instruction, among many other programs.

“What we are really trying to do is let the community know about all the great stuff we are doing,” former Fund Board member and current School Board member Jerry Kozatch said Wednesday.

The sales tax sunsets at the end of 2009, and Fund Board members hope voters extend the tax during the 2008 or 2009 elections. A Hill Research Consultants poll conducted in April revealed that 58 percent of respondents said they would vote against renewing the tax.

“Without proper education out there, it is going to fail,” Fund Board member Tom Ptach said. “There is a strong adversity to this out there.”

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The Fund Board on Wednesday agreed to begin negotiating with Peggy Gonder of Denver-based public relations firm Gonder and Associates to lead the community outreach efforts.

Fund Board member Michael Loomis cast the sole ‘no’ vote opposing the negotiations.

Some Fund Board members questioned whether sales tax dollars can be used to fund administrative costs that are not related to education. Gonder said informing the public about the tax and its benefits falls under the district’s educational mission.

“People wouldn’t know if there wasn’t somebody helping to sell a story,” she said. “When you think about it, a lot of school districts have full-time PR people. Some of what PR does is provide resources on where to go if your kids need help.”

Gonder told board members she has a three-step approach toward getting the message out about the sales tax: conducting research, developing a public relations plan and implementing communication strategies.

Her services would include developing PowerPoint presentations to show community groups, conducting focus groups and providing content for a soon-to-be developed Fund Board Web site.

“If you are thinking of a short-term investment that would greatly improve your chances of keeping this wonderful resource, the return of investment for $60,000 would be pretty good,” said Gonder, who noted her estimated fee is about 3 percent of the sales tax’s annual revenue.

The $60,000 figure is an estimate that includes payment for Gonder’s firm – the payment amount is under negotiation – costs for an additional citywide survey, and the development of a Web site promoting the Fund Board.

A low bid of $2,000 and a high bid of $8,000 have been submitted for Web site designs, Fund Board President Robin Crossan said. Selection of a bid has not yet occurred.

Interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser said she was impressed with Gonder’s emphasis on using focus groups to find the pulse of various voting groups.

“The fact is, we have seriously different constituent groups that are going to be voting on this,” Smyser said. “Meeting with different groups to see what our message is going to be is key.”

– To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com