What is the Steamboat Springs Education Fund?
The Steamboat Springs Education Fund (SSEF) is a volunteer-run Colorado nonprofit corporation created in 1994 to facilitate the granting of funds derived from a half-cent sales and use tax that was initiated and approved by the voters of Steamboat Springs in November 1993. The SSEF is managed by an 11 person volunteer board of directors.
What is the mission statement of the SSEF?
The mission of the SSEF is “To enhance academic accomplishment in Routt County through student-facing investments in staff, facilities, infrastructure, technology, and curriculum, made available through our public schools.”
If the sales and use tax created in 1993, why is it still active? Does it last forever?
By state law, the authorization of the half-cent tax and dedicated use for Routt County public education must have a definite time span. It has been set to expire four times over the last two decades, and it was renewed each time. Most recently, in 2018, the authorization passed by a 3-to-1 margin. That initiative is set to expire in 2029. The exact language of each of the ballot initiatives is available on the SSEF website.
How is the sales and use tax fund different than the recently passed bond issue?
The bond issue was established specifically for ongoing maintenance of facilities. The sales and use tax funds have been granted based on the prioritized needs of the district most recently as an annual augmentation to programs, technology, and class size reduction. In the past one-time expenses for capital projects have also been funded. They are different and both are needed.
How does the SSEF get the money?
The City of Steamboat Springs (the City) and the SSEF have a contract that is based on the language of the most recent authorization. This contract spells out the terms of disbursement of funds to SSEF from the dedicated tax collected by the City, the manner in which the SSEF will account for those funds, and the use of those funds.
How much money has been granted?
Funds depend on the health of the retail and construction economy in Steamboat. Since 1993, the SSEF has granted more than $61 million. Note that internet sales and purchases outside City limits that are not taxed by the City do not add to the education fund.
Does the SSEF get funds from other sources?
The SSEF has never accepted donations from other sources. If a donor is interested in supporting public schools, members of the SSEF and/or the grants commission may have ideas for donees/grantees based on existing organizations like the Challenge Fund and Parent Information Committees.
How important is the SSEF?
The SSEF provides approximately 10% of Steamboat Springs School District funding. This percentage has grown over time as legislation at the state level has curtailed financing of public education, especially in rural areas. The issue is complex. The problem is simple.
What is the use of the funds received from the City?
The funds are granted to Routt County K-12 public school districts and to nonprofits augmenting the programs of those public school districts. The most recent enabling ballot language was:
WITHOUT RAISING ADDITIONAL TAXES, SHALL THE EXISTING 0.5% (ONE-HALF CENT) CITY OF STEAMBOAT SPRINGS SALES AND USE TAX FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES IN ROUTT COUNTY BE EXTENDED FROM ITS CURRENT EXPIRATION OF DECEMBER 31, 2019, THROUGH DECEMBER 31, 2029, AND SHALL THE CITY BE AUTHORIZED TO RECEIVE AND SPEND THE PROCEEDS OF SUCH TAX FOR PUBLIC EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES NOTWITHSTANDING ANY REVENUE OR EXPENDITURE LIMITATIONS?
Is there an overhead expense taken from these funds?
There is a small percentage that goes toward administration (accounting, records management, communications, insurance, and legal) and there is a grant writer who is dedicated to school-based grant opportunities. There are no fundraising costs. Therefore, the SSEF manages an expense ratio of less than 1%, which puts it well above the “gold standard” of 90% efficiency among national nonprofits. Note: The grant writer has historically leveraged her “cost” by a factor of two or three in awarded grants, which puts the SSEF near a 100% efficiency.
Why does the City contract with the SSEF instead of granting the funds itself?
The expense of hiring/allocating staff to read and review grants, write contracts for awards, and manage the post-award review process would be far in excess of the overhead of the SSEF. Public/private partnerships like this are common throughout the world.
How are the funds allocated?
The SSEF has the authority to award grants to any public K-12 supporting program in Routt County. Recently, approximately 80% has gone to Steamboat Springs School District (primarily the City of Steamboat Springs), 15% to other public school districts, and 3-4% to nonprofits that partner with the schools. Here is that authorizing language from the 2008 ballot initiative:
If Question No. 1 is approved by the voters, should the City authorize the Steamboat Springs Education Fund to share, in its sole discretion, some portion of the proceeds of the 1/2 cent sales tax with the other school districts in Routt County in addition to the Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs School District?
How does the SSEF treat the Montessori School?
The Montessori School is a public school authorized by the Colorado Charter School Institute, a non-district public school authorizing body that was created by the Colorado legislature in 2004. Therefore Montessori is eligible for funds pursuant to the enabling language. For more on the Charter School Institute, click here.
Why fund South Routt, Hayden, and Montessori with City of Steamboat taxes?
There are several reasons the SSEF expanded its granting area. First, in 2009, voters extended the tax and expanded the purpose to share a portion of the proceeds of the tax with other Routt County public schools. Below is the authorizing language from the 2008 ballot initiative. Second, while the taxes are collected from sales within Steamboat Springs, residents of areas surrounding Steamboat (as well as visitors from around the world without children in our schools) contribute to the fund through their purchases. Third, the success of students in areas surrounding the City augment the well being of all of the residents of Routt County, northwest Colorado, and the world.
Authorizing language from the 2008 ballot initiative: If Question No. 1 is approved by the voters, should the City authorize the Steamboat Springs Education Fund to share, in its sole discretion, some portion of the proceeds of the 1/2 cent sales tax with the other school districts in Routt County in addition to the Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs School District?
What is the process for grant awards?
Each year the SSEF board of directors sets a budget based upon anticipated tax revenues. In the fall there is a public advertisement for grant requests that meet the mission of the SSEF. Grant applicants fill out an online form available on the SSEF website.
Within the SSEF is an 11 person grants commission that reviews all grant applications (including those from the school districts) and recommends awards and allocations based on merit, need, and the SSEF budget. These recommendations and allocations are then reviewed and approved by the SSEF board or sent back to the grants commission for further deliberation. Grants awarded in the spring of 2018 are for the 2018-19 school year.
How does the SSEF oversee awarded grants?
In addition to managing the invoices from grantees, the SSEF requires each grantee to provide a report outlining the efficacy and specific outcomes of the program that was funded. Unused funds are rescinded/returned to the SSEF general account.
How does the City oversee the SSEF?
The SSEF books are audited annually, and the SSEF provides the grantee reports to the City. In addition, after every grant cycle a representative of the board (typically the president) attends a public city council meeting to discuss the SSEF’s progress and procedures.
Can the public see these reports and financials?
Yes. They are available on the website or upon request to the SSEF.
What is the input from the school districts?
The SSEF has an advisory board made up of representatives from Steamboat Springs School District, Hayden, South Routt and the Montessori School. This group is invited to provide input during board meetings and they are apprised of issues of importance in a timely fashion. School districts are also asked to prioritize grant requests that affect their curriculum. These priority lists are used in evaluating grants, but they are not the sole criterion for decisions by the grants commission.
What is the input from the public? How visible is the grant process?
All SSEF board meetings and grants commission meetings are open to the public. Input at meetings is during a scheduled public comment period. In addition, the SSEF has a public website that has historical data, meeting minutes and other materials.
What are some of the programs that are funded by the SSEF?
Some of the programs funded by SSEF include teachers and staff, technology infrastructure, professional development, mental health services, curriculum materials, and musical instruments. SSEF funds also offset the cost of school-based community programs provided by local non-profit organizations. Those programs and providers include environmental literacy – Yampatika, 6th Grade Science School – Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, AmeriCorps School-Based Mentoring Program – Partners in Routt County, and financial literacy – Junior Achievement.
The SSEF also funds a Steamboat Springs School District school-based grant writer. In 2017, the grant writer secured nearly $1 million in additional funds for Steamboat Springs School District.
A complete list of programs funded is available on the fund website. Choose Grant History, by year, from the drop-down menu for more detail.
What is the makeup of the SSEF board and commission?
The 11 member board is made up of volunteers from within the community. Members must reside in the Steamboat Springs School District. The 11 member grants commission is made up of at least nine members who reside in the Steamboat Springs School District. There is an option for one member from South Routt and one member from the Hayden School district. Two of the commission members are also board members and serve as a liaison between the two groups.
How do I apply for a position on the board or commission?
Applications are available on the website https://www.steamboateducationfund.org/
How can I help the SSEF if I don’t want to serve on the board or commission?
Contact us through the website. We have lots of ideas!