Jim Gill: Budget cuts
February 21, 2010
Your editorial ("Preparing for the worst in school budget cuts," Jan. 27 Steamboat Today) regarding the budget challenges facing our three school districts in Routt County as a result of the estimated $150 million cut in state education spending for the 2010-11 school year suggests that the elected school boards, administrators, staff and concerned parents in each of these districts have an ominous task ahead of them to minimize the impact of these budget cuts on the high quality of education that each district provides.
As in the past, when our school districts have been required to make massive budget cuts because of state spending shortfalls, it again will be imperative that community members and parents become actively engaged and support whatever process each district utilizes to establish their educational priorities for future budget years.
However, as one member of the group that originally created the Steamboat Springs Education Fund, which now provides the city of Steamboat Springs' half-cent sales tax funding mechanism to our county school districts, I take exception to the first of your "ideas to consider" for solving this budget dilemma: "The Education Fund Board should consider temporarily adjusting its typical allocation process and instead provide funding to all three districts to reinstitute cut programs or positions."
From the creation of this funding mechanism, we knew that the only way the provision of these half-percent sales tax dollars to the Steamboat Springs School District would avoid being in legal conflict with the State of Colorado's per-pupil funding formula was for these funds to be provided as "gifts" to the district for specific educational uses and functions that were beyond and outside of the basic educational services provided and required by all school districts in the state. We created a detailed paper trail of these "gifts" from the Education Fund to the district so that we always would have a documented history of how these funds were allocated and proof that because these funds always were provided as "gifts" to the district, they were outside the mathematical calculations of the state per-pupil funding formula.
Given the fungible nature of money, I fear it will become increasingly difficult in the coming years for the Steamboat district (and now Hayden and South Routt) to maintain adequate records and budget procedures to assure a clear and complete separation of Education Fund-provided resources from their general fund resources even without taking your suggestion of using fund monies to pay for "cut programs or positions." This half-percent sales tax funding mechanism already has had one legal challenge to its very existence based on the premise that it was in violation of the state per-pupil funding formula. Our elected representatives at the time, then-Sen. Jack Taylor and then-Rep. Al White, did an excellent job of arguing against this legal challenge on the grounds that these funds were provided to the Steamboat district as "gifts" for special educational needs above and beyond the state/district minimums and that these funds were not provided as a supplement to the general fund of the district above the per-pupil funding limit.
I think the use of Steamboat Springs Education Fund monies in the manner your editorial suggested would be an unacceptable and irresponsible direction for the Education Fund Board and our school districts to consider and could put the long-term legal status of this excellent school funding mechanism at severe risk.
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Steamboat Springs School Board member, 1993-1999; Steamboat Springs Education Fund president, 1993-1999 and 2001-2002