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Aspen schools will not go unscathed by budget crisis

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen School District officials acknowledged this week that while drastic budget cuts are not likely in 2011-12, the following year could be a different story altogether.

“Relative to other districts, we are in moderately good shape for the coming year,” school board member Bob Glah told about a dozen parents gathered Thursday for the district’s public communication forum on the budget. “But that might not always be the case.”

In a detailed presentation on school finance and how it affects the local bottom line, district finance director Kate Fuentes explained that a combination of factors – including a dramatic reduction in assessed property values locally and a serious budget crisis at the state level – have left the district without its usual level of funding.

Fuentes said next year’s cuts are in the $700,000 range. She anticipates cuts to the 2012-13 budget could be at least $2 million, depending on how quickly Colorado’s economy rebounds.

“Recovery at the state level is key to getting us – and school districts across the state – back on track,” said Fuentes, who was hesitant to give specifics about 2012-13 because so much remains unknown. “Thankfully, we in Aspen have another year to ride out the storm.”

In fact, the Aspen School District would be looking at slashing close to $1.5 million from next year’s budget if not for a voter-approved a mill-levy override in the November.

Cuts must still be made, however, and a district-wide budget reduction task force has met twice to determine where those might be. At Thursday’s meeting, Aspen Superintendent John Maloy said the goal is to keep the cuts away from the classroom. This may not be the true is future years, he cautioned.

“I believe we can meet this goal without impacting the classroom, our high-quality teachers and the programs the community values such as Outdoor Ed and ExEd,” he said. “But this is true for one more year; it may not be the case in 2012-13.

“If the economy does not improve, we will be facing some real challenges.”

The news of possible future cuts led those assembled Thursday to begin brainstorming ways to bridge the gap. Everything from partnering with nonprofits and corporations to having kids help solve the problem was thrown on the table.

“It’s these creative solutions we need to pursue,” said parent Marilyn Seltzer. “They may be Band-Aids, but what other choice do we have? We have to find ways to stay ahead of the cuts.”

District officials urged the parents to keep talking and to work with the Aspen Education Foundation on possibly implementing some of their ideas.

For their part, district administrators and the budget reduction task force will continue to work on the budget in the coming weeks; the board is expected to approve a final draft at their June 13 meeting.

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com


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