What have you done for us lately?
That is the question we tend to ask when non-elected public officials come up for promotions, raises and contract extensions.
In the case of Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger, that question may not be the best one to ask. We would be better served to look back on his entire tenure.
Early this week, the Durango 9-R School Board triggered an automatic contract extension that keeps him in place through June of 2020. It was the right thing to do.
Recall that Snowberger, in 2012, arrived in Durango at a tough time for Colorado schools. Though Amendment 23, passed in 2000, was designed to boost and protect K-12 funding, state budget shortfalls and the Great Recession led lawmakers to determine that the amendment applied only to a portion of school funding defined as the “base.”
For nearly a decade now, the state budget has been bolstered at the expense of additional school funding, resulting in the “negative factor,” and a scramble to keep school districts across Colorado out of the red.
Snowberger knew what he was getting into and seemed to relish the challenge. “There’s not enough money. I’ve heard that for years,” he said in an interview soon after he was hired. “But my attitude is, become more efficient.”
With no other choice, the district did so, and it was a painful, prolonged process. Classified staff positions were cut in 2013, and teaching positions went under the axe the following year. Along the way, several special programs for high school students – like drafting, culinary arts and video technology – were deemed too expensive to continue.
None of these choices made Snowberger popular with staff, parents and students, but in the spring of 2014, he was able to announce that the combination of retirements, buyouts, consolidation of positions, job eliminations and program cuts had erased the district’s $1.6 million deficit.
More recently, with no relief from the state in sight, Snowberger shepherded the district’s request for a mill levy override to raise additional funds. During the process, he remained patient and transparent, and was eager to make the district’s case with stakeholders. The override was approved by voters in November 2016.
Not without detractors, he remains an imaginative thinker, a supporter of charter schools, and well aware that certain children thrive on different learning styles; no doubt Snowberger has more ideas to bring before the board.
We’re glad that now, with the budget crisis somewhat relieved, he has the green light to work on them.