School board supports financial transparency in elections | SteamboatToday.com

School board supports financial transparency in elections

The Steamboat Springs School District administration offices at 325 Seventh St.

— It was more than two months after November's school board election before the public understood the detailed spending of Front Range groups paying for campaign materials for two Steamboat Springs candidates.

A proposed bill working its way through the Colorado legislature would align school election campaign finance reporting with the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Because school board elections are held in odd-numbered years, candidates and political committees aren't required to report campaign finance information as frequently as candidates running for other offices or candidates running in even-numbered years, which can lead to sparse reporting at intervals that don't make sense during the odd-year elections.

On Monday, Steamboat Springs Board of Education voted unanimously to pass a board resolution supporting House Bill 16-1282, which last week was referred from the House Committee on Appropriations to the Colorado House for consideration.

"(This) was something that I was really concerned with at the end of the last election cycle," Michael Buccino, who ran for Steamboat Springs City Council in the fall, said to the school board Monday. "I just plead for your support on this."

In January, campaign finance reports revealed that a Front Range political committee spent as much as $40,000 on campaign materials supporting school board candidates Margie Huron and Michelle Dover, who were both elected to the board in November.

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The political committee Every Student Deserves Opportunity was not required to report its contributions or expenses until several weeks after the election based on current disclosure requirements.

The contributions to Huron and Dover locally are one example of the significant involvement of political committees in school board races elsewhere in the state.

"Those finance reports came out substantially after the election," Lindsey Wert, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board in November, said during Monday's meeting. "The transparency didn't really come out until after the election."

Wert and two another public commenters at the meeting suggested that Huron and Dover recuse themselves before the vote on whether to support the bill.

Huron said she didn't understand how she could have a conflict of interest because of last November's election, when the new bill would only concern future elections.

All five members of the board voted to formalize the board's support of HB 16-1282.

"I'm all for transparency, and I think this is definitely something that should be appoved," Huron said.

Kindergarten tuition discussed

The board and district administrative team continued Monday to discuss the future of the district's all-day kindergarten program. District officials told the Education Fund Board last week the district planned to return to a tuition-based program.

District finance director Mark Rydberg presented the latest district budget worksheet, which showed the revenue associated with charging full tuition ($2,400), half tuition ($1,200) or a smaller $750 annual amount for each full-day kindergarten student.

Board members Huron and Dover said they were supportive of the $750 annual fee, but the board didn't take a vote on the topic.

During public comment at Monday's meeting, community member Candice Bannister said the decision to return to a tuition-based program was sudden and didn't allow families appropriate time to budget for such a cost.

"The availability of this money is just not there for some families," Bannister said.

Bannister said the tuition would be particularly difficult to come up with for middle-income families who make too much money to qualify for financial assistance but would still be burdened.

"I hope that there are some other avenues that you could consider to reduce that cost," Bannister said.

The district is continuing to build its budget, which district administrators plan to present to the board for approval in June.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow