ASPEN - All three Aspen public schools are over capacity, with enrollment at the high school nearly 10 percent above the optimal number of students.
"The bottom line is that we are seeing an increased number of students year after year," said Aspen Superintendent John Maloy. "We are at a point where we need to have a conversation about the future."
According to a report presented at last week's Board of Education meeting, Aspen High, Middle and Elementary schools have enrollment numbers that are above "optimum capacity." Enrollment at Aspen High and Aspen Elementary is also above the schools' "building capacity," as defined by the architects who designed the buildings.
Currently, Aspen High has 561 students enrolled; optimum capacity is 528, while the building's capacity is 540. The enrollment number does not violate fire codes, according to Brian Nichols, assistant fire marshal. Because the buildings are designed for use beyond school classes, such as assemblies and sporting events, they can legally hold more than the current student and teacher populations.
However, the overcrowding has forced the high school to consider having two lunch periods to safely and efficiently accommodate all students. Some students also are being asked to share lockers, and there are teachers without a dedicated classroom or office space.
"We need to make sure we're meeting the needs of our teachers and our kids," Maloy said. "We need to be sure the learning environment is not compromised."
The enrollment situation at Aspen High is of the most concern, but it is not the only concern for district administrators.
Aspen Elementary School is currently six students above building capacity, but it is 34 students above optimum capacity. Aspen Middle School is currently seven students above optimum capacity; the school is about three dozen students below building capacity.
"So what do these numbers mean? And what are the ramifications of them?" asked school board member Bob Glah. "We need to understand what is happening on a larger scale. We need to know where we'll be in 10 years."
The increased enrollment can be attributed to several factors. Foremost is the number of families moving to Aspen. According to Maloy, 139 new students enrolled for 2012-13, while only 65 students moved out of the district, meaning a net gain of 74 kids. These students came from other states, across Colorado and from within the Roaring Fork Valley. Students from the Roaring Fork Valley included 11 from Aspen Community School, 15 from Aspen Country Day School and 24 from other schools, which means those families either moved to within district boundaries or have lived in Aspen but attended schools such as Waldorf or the Carbondale Community School.
"What you're seeing is that there are more kids living within school district boundaries and/or are choosing to enroll in the public schools," Maloy said. "This is not a situation being created by out-of-district students."
In fact, the district has seen a steady decline in out-of-district enrollment - from 18.6 percent in 2008-09 to 14.5 percent in 2012-13 - and is currently accepting no new out-of-district students.
However, out-of-district students who graduate from Aspen Community School are accepted into Aspen High without having to apply or be put on a waiting list - and 64 percent of the school's students are out-of-district.
"I can say there will definitely be some conversations with the community school in terms of sending such a high percentage of out-of-district eighth-grade graduates to our high school, especially when we are seeing such changes to our high school environment," Maloy said, adding that under current projects, enrollment at Aspen High next year would top 600 students. "We need to find some balance."
As such, the enrollment situation has put the Board of Education on high alert. The first step will be a work session on the topic in November. Maloy stressed that no immediate action - such as a rollback on already admitted out-of-district students - will be suggested. Rather, the district will be looking at long-term solutions.
"I think it's important to reiterate that my it's not my intention to recommend a rollback - it would not be fair, nor would it be in the best interests of our families," Maloy said. "But we've got to put something in place now, or we will have a major problem in the not-too-distant future."