Funding decision taxing
Districts discuss when to start sharing sales-tax revenues
November 9, 2008
Steamboat Springs — When the time comes for the Education Fund Board to share Steamboat Springs’ half-cent sales tax revenues with neighboring school districts, Shane Antyr will be ready.
Antyr, the technology coordinator for the South Routt School District, already has prepared a three-year plan for how to replace the district’s aging computers, servers and technology. The plan moved closer to reality last week, with the resounding voter approval of two referendums related to renewal of the half-cent sales tax for education.
Exactly how much closer remains to be seen.
Referendums 2A and 2B passed with more than 70 percent of the vote and allow, respectively, for a 10-year renewal of the sales tax and sharing of its revenues with Hayden and South Routt school districts. But the passage of the referendums already has given rise to questions surrounding their intent – such as when the sharing of revenues should start.
The need for that sharing is evident in South Routt, where Antyr’s department is an example of funding disparities between Routt County school districts.
With an annual budget of $40,000, Antyr’s technology funding is noticeably smaller than the Steamboat Springs School District’s allocation of $1.4 million this school year. Antyr said he was ready to create the necessary changes to the district’s infrastructure regardless of last week’s election, but he acknowledged the constraints of limited funding.
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“What 2B will do is give us greater flexibility in what type of equipment we order,” he said.
At a meeting Wednesday night, Fund Board members grappled with the legalities of sharing the funds and with regard to when sharing should begin.
At issue is when the Fund Board is legally allowed to share the money. A half-cent sales tax extension passed in 1999 stipulates that the money be used for “educational purposes,” but an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Steamboat Springs directs that money to “local” school districts – interpreted to mean only the Steamboat Springs School District.
The passage of referendums 2A and 2B authorize the Fund Board to share the money “at its sole discretion.”
The ambiguity in language means the Fund Board has broad authority to decide where and when the money is spent, said Paul Strong, accountant for the Fund Board. Once the IGA with the city is altered, which likely will happen in a month, he said, the Fund Board members could use the tax revenue to fund any projects they deem fit.
“I think it’s subject to interpretation, so I think it’s still up in the air,” Strong said.
The intentional ambiguity in the language of Referendum 2B does not obligate the Fund Board to spend any set amount of money on either South Routt or Hayden.
Because Referendum 2B specifically referenced 2A, however, the Fund Board has agreed it likely should be interpreted that the money should be shared only after Jan. 1, 2010, to coincide with the beginning of the sales tax renewal approved Tuesday.
That interpretation means representatives from the outlying districts likely will be invited to the Fund Board budget planning process – which will lay out how funds are spent for the 2009-10 school year – beginning in March.
“Nothing has been finalized,” said Steamboat Springs School Board President and Fund Board member Robin Crossan. “Should we have had that conversation before the half-cent vote? Some may say so, but I think you should wait to know what the results were and work from there.”
Strong said he will meet with attorneys from the city and the Fund Board in the upcoming month to draft a new IGA, which then will have to be ratified by the two bodies.
Meanwhile, it is business as usual in Hayden and South Routt, where Antyr is making the best of the available equipment.
The server for the district’s computer system – really a set of antiquated desktop PCs cobbled together to form the necessary components – crashes regularly, often several times a day, said Soroco High School Library Media Specialist Susan Rossi.
“Our tech needs are major,” she said. “We’ve had to deal with old computers, third- or fourth-hand computers, for years now.”
– To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail email@example.com
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