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Aspen School District ready to tighten its belt

Aspen Times writer

By Eben Harrell

Aspen Times Staff Writer

After months of preparation, the Aspen School District superintendent will today ask the school board to approve $500,000 in cuts in next year’s budget, including the elimination of an assistant principal position, two special education positions and the introduction of tuition for kindergarten.

The 2004-05 budget represents the first stage of Superintendent Diana Sirko’s three-year plan to eliminate a nearly $1 million budget deficit.

“Across the district we scrutinized every single line item. We really made an effort to keep the cuts away from students and educators as much as possible,” Sirko said.

According to Sirko, the biggest savings will come from the elimination of nearly $120,000 in “professional development” – the cost of teacher training, conferences and advisers. To continue crucial training programs, the district will receive nearly $30,000 from the Aspen Education Foundation and another $28,000 from federal grants.

Another $100,000 will be saved by combining the assistant principal positions at the lower and middle schools. Sirko said no one will likely be out of a job. Middle school Assistant Principal Paula Canning will become the new principal of that school. Elementary school Assistant Principal Doreen Goldyn is considering taking the joint middle and elementary school assistant principal position.

Two special education jobs will also be eliminated, but the cuts will not result in layoffs. One special education teacher is leaving the district next year, and another’s contract will not be renewed, according to Sirko.

The most controversial cut was decided in April when the school board told Sirko to stop offering full-day kindergarten for free. The federal government only reimburses districts for a half day of kindergarten.

Starting next year, parents will be charged $200 a month for full-day classes, unless they have other children in kindergarten or preschool, in which case they will be charged $100 a month. Families that qualify for federal free or reduced lunch programs will be charged $50 a month.

Sirko said the charges should save around $95,000 next year. She also said that because next year’s kindergarten class will be small, the district is currently recruiting out-of-district students. Funding from the state is based on pupil counts, so more students from out of the district mean more funding.

Sirko said she and finance director Bill Anuszewski have worked closely with the board to prepare the budget and that she anticipates its approval.

Next year, the district will cut an additional $250,000 from the budget. Those cuts will come at the recommendation of a yearlong study by a panel of teachers, administrators, parents and students at the high school level.

The board meeting is at 3 p.m. today in the Aspen High School conference room.

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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