Aspen foundation gets school board support for sales tax |

Aspen foundation gets school board support for sales tax

ASPEN – The idea of putting a question about a sales tax for education on the November ballot is gaining momentum.

On Monday, the Aspen Board of Education informally endorsed the concept but left the timing – to go to voters in November or wait another year – up to the local nonprofit Aspen Education Foundation, which serves as the public schools’ fundraising arm.

“I think we are all supportive of the idea,” school board president Elizabeth Parker said at Monday’s school board meeting. “On the heels of our budget discussion, it’s obvious we are going to need to do something to create a more stable funding source.”

The Aspen Education Foundation is considering asking Aspen voters to approve a 0.35 percent sales tax increase. The hope is to inject an additional $1.75 million into school coffers annually in an effort to alleviate the ongoing school budget crisis. The district faced a $899,000 deficit for the 2012-13 school year but was able to offset those losses by using the remainder of its one-time mill levy override funds and by dipping into reserves.

At previous meetings, Parker and her fellow board members expressed concern about the tight turnaround for launching an election campaign, however. On Monday, they agreed to leave that question in the Foundation’s court.

“I think there is a strong possibility that voters in this community will support this, and if they don’t, we continue to educate them and try again,” said board member Charla Belinski.

Added Parker: “We well respect whatever you feel the best timing is for (the Foundation) and the school district.”

The foundation’s next step in getting a sales tax measure on the ballot is to meet with the Aspen City Council, which would have to give its approval for the question to be put on the ballot. A work session is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on June 19.

“We hope we can get them to understand that education is the underpinning of the community, of the Aspen brand,” said Robin Hamill, interim director of Aspen Education Foundation. “We need them, and the community, to understand that we are already dipping into reserves and will have to continue to do so – or begin to cut teachers and programs – after the next school year.

“The time to do this – to go to the voters – is now.”

If City Council members will not support the initiative, the foundation could petition to have a question put on the ballot. According to Aspen City Clerk Kathryn Koch, such a petition would be due in her office the first week of July. If the City Council were to place the measure on the ballot, language for it would need to be approved by August.

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