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Aspen School District to recognize donors

The Aspen Board of Education has adopted a new policy that will allow the Aspen School District to recognize donors in some capacity.

The Aspen Board of Education has adopted a new policy that will allow the Aspen School District to recognize donors in some capacity.

The Aspen Board of Education’s new donor-recognition policy:

The Aspen School District is a public school district primarily supported by local and state tax dollars. To enable the district to fully achieve its mission statement, however, the District also depends on the annual charitable contributions raised by the Aspen Education Foundation.

At the foundation’s request, the board has developed the following policy in an effort to assist the foundation in its vital work. The board’s guiding principal in developing this policy is the incontrovertible premise that each and every student in the District feels valued and equal, and nothing contained in this policy or any interpretation thereof may be in contravention of this guiding principal.

1. The Board of Education approves the addition of one donor recognition wall in a design and location to be later determined by the board working in conjunction with the Aspen Education Foundation and such other members of the community as the board may choose.

2. Donors shall be recognized only after having met a strict set of criteria and standards; such criteria and standards shall be initially proposed by the Aspen Education Foundation and reviewed and approved by the Board of Education.

3. Any donor who has been previously recognized and subsequently fails to meet either the criteria or standards would be subject to removal.

4. Any other visible donor recognition shall be only permitted on District property with the prior consent of and appropriate policy amendment by the Board of Education.

The Aspen Board of Education has adopted a new donor-recognition policy that permits the Aspen School District to visibly acknowledge significant financial donors in some capacity.

The board unanimously approved the policy at a meeting Monday after seven months of deliberating the morality of recognizing donors, the community’s feedback on the issue and which provisions a revised policy might entail.

In addition to allowing the district to add one donor-recognition wall “in a design and location to be later determined,” the new policy and its language offers more flexibility for the board to consider other opportunities to acknowledge donors.

These are significant changes from the board’s former donor-recognition policy, which strictly prohibited the superintendent from recognizing donors, whether individuals or businesses, via any tangible, permanent method.

The policy passed Monday with no discussion or opposition, despite recent pushback from a few Aspen parents.

“We are disappointed that the board chose to adopt its new donor-recognition policy with minimal community outreach or conversation,” wrote Aspen parent Catherine Lutz, on behalf of herself and parents Jennifer Fulton and Tara Nelson, in an email to The Aspen Times on Monday evening.

“To make their decision, board members relied on a survey that they said showed widespread community support for a donor wall, yet too many parents who missed the survey have not been given any other opportunity to join the conversation,” Lutz wrote.

Lutz has expressed her concern with the school district acknowledging donors via an email to school board President Susan Marolt, a letter to the editor in The Aspen Times and speaking out at a Board of Education meeting Oct. 3.

Nelson, who also spoke publicly at the last board meeting, added, “Nothing has been presented to the public to indicate how or whether this new policy will open the door to additional significant support that will directly benefit our children. But it does open the door to an avenue of donor recognition that many people feel does not reflect our community’s values. The previous policy of no permanent recognition of donors was adopted in 2013, arguably in even tighter times economically — why was that policy (changed) so quickly? Unfortunately, this and too many other questions still linger.”

It seems that some parents feel differently on the issue of donor recognition — like Dan Goldman, who wrote in an email to The Aspen Times that he “can’t believe the Sturm und Drang surrounding a donor wall.” 

“It’s such a high-class problem,” wrote Goldman, who said he moved to Aspen from Chicago about three months ago and has two children at the middle school.

“While I suppose there are a lot of ways to make up a $2 million funding gap, like firing some teachers, raising taxes, cutting outdoor education and/or some other programs, etc., isn’t it great that the gap can be made up by gifts?” Goldman wrote. “And if some donors want recognition — and maybe even that recognition makes it easier to raise money from others — well, that is pretty lucky in my book.”

Talk of recognizing donors in the Aspen School District arose at a Board of Education meeting in late March, when the Aspen Education Foundation advised the board to consider acknowledging donors of significant financial gifts as a means of alleviating the district’s budget crisis.

The Aspen School District has never provided any permanent visible recognition of any donors, said Angela Rittenhouse, the Aspen School District administrative assistant.

“We have scoreboards in the gyms and we have a sign on the football field score board,” Rittenhouse said earlier this month. “But none of these are permanent.”

While the new policy is in place, there are no plans in the works “for any sort of donor recognition at this point in time,” Marolt said after the meeting Monday.

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