Our View: All Routt County’s students matter | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: All Routt County’s students matter

The plain language South Routt School District Superintendent Darcy Mohr used this month to describe the future of the schools in Oak Creek and Yampa should the district fail to reverse the downward spiral of student enrollment struck us as not only appropriate, but also courageous.

Steamboat Today reported this month that South Routt School District enrollment had dropped to 327 students — from 367 in 2014 — while existing school buildings have the capacity to host 100 to 150 additional students with the addition of a handful of teachers. And the trend is ongoing.

"Failure to respond quickly and with whatever force we can muster, inevitably, in my opinion, we're heading towards elimination as a whole," Mohr said.

And South Routt School Board President Jules Palyo acknowledged that, while it may be premature to begin talks on merging the South Routt and Steamboat school districts, it might not be too soon to have general conversations about what that might look like.

Our reaction is, in the wake of a failed $92 million school bond issue in the Steamboat Springs School District, a new plan should at least include some consideration of the possibility that the two districts are destined to move closer together. Failing to plan for that contingency could become a regrettable mistake. Now that voters have hit the reset button on new and remodeled school buildings for Steamboat Springs, it is time to discuss the possible implications of merged school districts within that process.

South Routt has every right to be proud of its school district. We've never visited one of the schools without coming away with a positive impression of the students and their educators. This winter, the district is looking at a creative plan to establish an education-based community center that might offer preschool, daycare, homeschool services and a library to make it more attractive to people who live in South Routt but commute to Steamboat for work.

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Oak Creek officials are optimistic the community is poised to grow, but the current situation teaches us that adding population without adding jobs based in the community won't necessarily translate into more parents enrolling their children at Soroco.

And it would be unrealistic to ignore the primary driver in the exodus of students living in South Routt to Steamboat. For parents living in South Routt and working in Steamboat, the convenience factor associated with enrolling their children in Steamboat schools is undeniable.

When it comes to driving children to after-school activities or dealing with an unexpected call from the school nurse, Steamboat schools are a pragmatic choice for many families. It doesn't help that South Routt's elementary school is south of both Stagecoach and Oak Creek and even farther from employment in Steamboat. Persuading a significant percentage of commuters to enroll their children in the South Routt Schools will be a challenge.

For that reason, we think the Steamboat Springs School district, which has made the case to voters that a shortage of space in its elementary schools is critical, should revisit its district policy of strictly considering admission of out-of-district students on a classroom-by-classroom-basis. If Steamboat is willing to take their students, they will come.

We do not think the Steamboat district has actively recruited South Routt students in pursuit of the state's per pupil funding model. However, if the district's buildings truly are overcrowded, it strikes us as potentially counterproductive to admit South Routt students without limits. 

The Steamboat Springs School District is to be commended for sharing grant-writing services, technology staff and accounting services with South Routt, and we hope to see more of the same in the future.

We would also urge the Steamboat Springs School District to rethink its out-of-district admissions policy that led it to admit new kindergarten students this fall from outside the district. Those five-year-olds have now been vested as pupils in our schools until they graduate from high school. And while there is room for them in 2015, there may not be when they enter 10th grade.

All the children of Routt County are important to us. It's time to also consider what is best for all of our schools.

At issue

Balancing parental preference with the needs of all Routt County’s public schools

Our view

With new schools in Steamboat returning to the planning stage, now is the time to consider the implications of a possible merger with South Routt School District