Aspen school board moves cautiously into 2011-12 budget talks
ASPEN – Aspen teachers hoping to see their wages unfrozen in the coming year will likely be disappointed, but chances are they will all have jobs.
“This is a big, big hit for us. These teachers are people we love and support; they are the best teachers in the world. But if by giving them raises this year we create a scenario where we have to cut teachers next year, it makes no sense,” said school board member Elizabeth Parker. “Any money we save this year goes toward saving a teachers’ job next year.
“And if this is a hard decision this year, it’s only going to be harder next year.”
The Aspen Board of Education on Monday took its first look at a proposed budget for 2011-12. According to district finance director Kate Fuentes, a combination of factors – including a dramatic reduction in assessed property values locally and a serious budget crisis at the state level – has left the district without its usual level of funding.
And though a $1.3 million voter-approved mill levy could soften the hit, Fuentes told the board that the district will likely face a similar – if not worse – budget scenario in 2012-13, with a possible deficit of more than $2 million. So if the district chooses, it can spread out the mill levy windfall to lessen the impact later.
It is a philosophy all board members present seemed inclined to follow.
“It’s the hard landing approach if we choose to use all the monies we have received this coming year,” said school board member Bob Glah. “And I am just not personally comfortable giving salary increases and just ignoring the fact we have a giant cliff ahead off us … a cliff we are going to have to face.”
To lessen the impact, the proposed draft budget did include several revenue-generating ideas in addition to mill levy monies, such as increasing kindergarten tuition, raising lunch prices and upping activity fees.
And while the draft budget did include small cost-cutting measures across the district, it did not include program cuts or teacher layoffs. Rather, it called for a return to the district’s salary schedule, which was frozen last year, and the elimination of furlough days, which were put in place as a cost-saving measure this school year.
This did not sit well with school board members.
“We just can’t be spending money on raises and all this other stuff when the rest of the country – and most other school districts – have had to stop,” said board president Fred Peirce. “We have been lucky up till now. We have to face the reality of the situation.”
According to Fuentes’ calculations, keeping the status quo – namely, frozen wages and two furlough days – could save approximately $500,000, which could then be used toward saving teachers’ jobs in 2012-13 or funneled back into salaries sooner should the economic tide turn.
“This is when we need that crystal ball that none of us have,” said Fuentes. “But it may be that the reasonable thing to do is save some dollars in our back pocket going in to 2012-13.
“The question is: How do we approach this year with so much looming uncertainty?”
Aspen Superintendent John Maloy echoed the sentiment: “We don’t know what is going to happen, but things have changed. It’s a fact of life at the moment.
“We’ve been fortunate – and somewhat immune – but we have to look at the big picture right now.”
School administrators will now go back to the teachers’ association to negotiate a revised budget proposal. This second draft will be presented to the board at its June 13 meeting; it must be approved by June 30.
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