Sunday, March 21, 2004
Sometimes a step backward is the best way to move forward.
After tinkering with its funding process last year to mixed results, the Education Fund Board this year opted to return to a process reminiscent of one used in years past.
Whether the Fund Board's 13 members believe that change was a good one could become clearer Wednesday night when they decide how much of an estimated $1.9 million in half-cent sales tax revenue to give to each of the group's three commissions.
Fund Board members appear to be in agreement on at least one thing -- the process being used this year is less time consuming and headache inducing than last year's. That's because the Fund Board began its funding cycle earlier this year by deciding that each of its commissions -- Technology, Educational Excellence and Capital -- would be guaranteed a specific amount of half-cent sales tax revenue to spend on programs for the Steamboat Springs School District. For the Technology and Educational Excellence commissions that allocated amount was $550,000 each. The Capital Commission was guaranteed $300,000.
In addition to those set amounts, the three commissions have been given the chance to compete for an additional $200,000 to $350,000 in sales tax revenue. The Fund Board will award those funds to the funding requests it believes are the best.
The Fund Board is a nonprofit corporation responsible for administering the Education Fund, which is funded annually by revenue from a half-cent city sales tax. Education Fund money is used for educational programs, primarily for the school district. Every year, the Fund Board goes through its funding process to approve spending requests for those educational projects.
This year's process is similar to the one used in the years after the Fund Board was established. With only two commissions, the Fund Board guaranteed each one 40 percent of the half-cent sales tax revenue. The two commissions competed for the final 20 percent.
Last year, however, the Fund Board moved to a system whereby commissions weren't guaranteed any money and had to compete for funds based on the strengths of their recommendations. Many Fund Board members complained about the lengthy process and said the group should do less micromanaging and give more credence to the commissions' ability to generate worthy, responsible funding requests.
So for the past three months, each Fund Board commission has prioritized its recommendations and presented them to the Fund Board in the form of first readings of requests. Armed with that information, the Fund Board meets Wednesday to decide how much money each commission will receive in addition to its guaranteed portion.
The Educational Excellence Commission has requested $750,020, which includes a $399,000 request for small class sizes. A $328,520 content standards package request will pay the salaries of the district's content standards director and four half-time teachers on special assignment. About $110,000 of that request covers professional development for district teachers and staff.
At last week's Fund Board meeting, Superintendent Donna Howell said both the small class size and content standards requests were essential to the district.
"I think it's shortsighted to skimp on training because our most valuable resource in the district is human resources, and that's teachers," Howell told Fund Board members.
She also strongly recommended against cutting any of the content standards staff.
"I don't see where we can, from my perspective, in clear conscience, make any recommendation to cut content standards staff," Howell said. "I feel strongly we're understaffed in the area of content standards."
Not fully funding the Educational Excellence Commission's small class size request would have a significant impact on the district, Howell said. The $399,000 request would pay the salaries of about eight teachers. Funding anything less than the full request will increase class sizes and limit the programs schools can offer students, she said.
The Technology Commission has requested $649,650, including $323,650 for technology staff and $96,350 for computer and other hardware replacement.
Making a $261,000 loan payment for the Steamboat Springs Middle School expansion and purchasing a piece of land for $100,000 for future district expansion are the two biggest requests from the Capital Commission.
The requests from all three commissions total slightly less than $1.85 million. The Fund Board estimates it will have between $1.8 and $1.95 million in half-cent sales tax revenue to spend. About $20,000 is set aside for administrative purposes, $80,000 for a grants writer used by all three Routt County school districts and $100,000 for an annual contingency reserve, which the Fund Board could allocate to commission requests.
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