Aspen school board OKs scaled-down budget
ASPEN – The Aspen Board of Education approved a budget for the 2011-12 school year on Monday that includes significant cuts, but that should not have a major impact on programs, students or teachers thanks to a voter-approved mill levy that will pump $754,000 back into school coffers for the coming year.
In balancing the budget, several revenue-generating measures were put into place in addition to the mill levy monies, including increasing kindergarten tuition, raising lunch prices and upping activity fees. Cost reductions were also made, mainly in the areas of supplies, textbooks and professional development.
The budget approved Monday will likely sit OK with district as it includes allowing “educational credits” for teachers who have earned them, as well as the elimination of furlough days, which were put in place as a cost-saving measure this school year.
“As we looked at what we wanted to do from salary-benefits structure, we felt pretty strongly that allowing educational credits was important because we are in the education business and we should honor those who have committed to furthering their education and bringing it back to the classroom,” said district finance director Kate Fuentes, noting that the teacher-related items were created through negotiations with the Aspen Education Association. “So I think we’ve found a balance here.”
Part of that balance included a reduction in wellness benefits for full-time employees, from $400 to $300 per year. Taken off the table, however, was the elimination of tuition subsidies for teachers whose children are enrolled at the Cottage preschool, which would have saved the district $23,058; the board long ago committed to providing teachers with low-cost childcare and were not inclined to renege on the deal.
Regardless, by approving the adjusted budget the district was able to save a portion of the one-time mill levy windfall for the future, which was a goal set forth at prior budget talks.
“The direction I got very, very clearly was to shore up for 2012-13 as best we can, which is what this budget does,” Fuentes said. “If this time next year things look much better, we can readjust. But this makes sense for now.”
According to 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 while spending the entire mill levy windfall would have lessened the immediate hit, 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 rather than spend the entire $1.3 million this year, the board decided to spread out the monies by using $754,000 in 2011-12,which leaves $492,000 available for the following year.
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