Aspen schools get funding reprieve |

Aspen schools get funding reprieve

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen School District will see about a $500,000 cut in what it receives from the state under the $18.2 billion budget signed by Gov. Bill Ritter on Thursday. That’s good news.

Local school administrators had been bracing to trim nearly twice that sum from the budget, but lawmakers ultimately agreed to let a handful of school districts, including Aspen, retain the property tax revenues that make up the bulk of their funding. Districts that rely more heavily on state funding will see a 6.4 percent drop in aid for the next school year, and some are planning layoffs or four-day weeks to make up for the loss.

Seven districts, however, don’t receive enough state moneys to reduce that funding by 6.4 percent. The question had been whether they would have to cut their spending by that amount anyway – essentially take in less in property taxes – so that all of Colorado’s 178 school districts share the pain equally. They won’t.

“It still means cuts, but not as deep as they would have been,” said Kate Fuentes, finance director for the Aspen district.

The district will lose about $500,000 from two different pools of state money, but will allocate funds from a transportation and technology mill levy approved by voters in 2008 to make up some of the shortfall, she said.

Other spending cuts are still being finalized for a budget that is tentatively scheduled to go to the school board for a first reading on May 17. The impact of the cuts to students in the classroom in 2010-11 may be minimal, Fuentes said, but the district is still looking at three unpaid furlough days for staff, including one that will shut down school for students.

The furlough days would save about $200,000, but they amount to a salary freeze, since staff pay hikes that come with advancement on the salary schedule would remain intact.

The state has warned school districts to anticipate funding cuts for the next several years, and Aspen is likely to face budget challenges along with everyone else, Fuentes said.

The decline in the local real estate market is expected to result in a drop in property values, which will in turn mean the district takes in less in property tax revenues for the 2011-12 school year, Fuentes said. She does not expect the state to be in a position to cover the shortfall.

“We’re getting a bit of a reprieve, but preparing for more cuts coming down the line,” she said.

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