Aspen teachers could be in new homes by next fall " or before | AspenTimes.com

Aspen teachers could be in new homes by next fall " or before

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” With the $12 million approved by voters on Tuesday, the Aspen School District can now get down to the task of increasing its stable of rental properties from 22 units to between 44 and 46 units.

Buying 10-12 properties could be a relatively simple matter, particularly given today’s soft housing market, according to Superintendent Diana Sirko. But building an additional six duplexes (12 units) will take longer, and come with a few more hoops to jump through.

Referendum 3B, which passed by a narrow margin of 316 votes on Tuesday, gave the district permission to sell bonds valued at $12 million in order to buy and build teacher housing. Lack of housing has been a long-standing obstacle to hiring and retaining teachers and staff, according to the district.

The district hopes to begin buying units relatively soon, and complete the purchases by August 2009, said Sirko. The district will be able to spend $5.5 million ” or an average of between $500,000 and $550,000 per property ” she said.

While the district would prefer housing in Aspen, Sirko said she expects it will be forced to look farther downvalley for lower prices. However, she said she was hopeful that, given the current soft real estate market, the district would easily be able to acquire enough units within its price range by the end of next summer.

The second half of the district’s tentative plan has it constructing six duplexes, using modular construction, on its property at West Ranch in the Woody Creek area. It’s a project the district hopes to complete by August 2010. It already has commissioned a study of such a project from an architect, land planner and construction company, said Sirko.

However, she acknowledged that before it begins taking steps to build, the school board will need to sit down with the Pitkin County commissioners to discuss the school district’s ability to build outside the urban growth boundary.

“The next action, really, is to get some common agreement about what’s possible out there,” Sirko said.

Both parties have their attorneys looking at the question of whether the district can build outside the urban growth boundary, she said. Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who was re-elected Tuesday, has questioned whether the district’s ability to bypass county restrictions such as the urban growth boundary holds even when it is not building on a school campus.

The county commissioners have said they may have identified alternative sites where the district could build, Sirko said.

“We would obviously entertain whatever options the county has,” she said. “We just want housing; we don’t care exactly where it’s at.”

Sirko said she expected about 75 percent of the new housing would go to existing staff and 25 percent would be held for new staff.

Currently the district’s policy is to offer housing to staff in the following order of priority: school or district administrator; transportation director; business manager; continuing contracted teachers on a first-come, first-served basis; probationary teachers on a first-come, first-served basis; support staff and other district employees on a first-come, first-served basis; and non-district governmental employees on a first-come, first-served basis.

However, the district also reserves the right, ultimately, to offer housing where there is the greatest need, even if it does not follow the policy, she said.

And this policy could change before the new housing is purchased and/or constructed. An advisory committee, comprised partly of teachers, is reviewing the policy and will make recommendations to the district.

The district also finds itself, after Tuesday’s approval of Referendum 3A, with money to spend on new buses and technology.

“We really appreciate the community’s support. It’s very difficult in the type of financial structure we have in our state to keep up with items such as transportation and technology without extra help from our voters,” said Sirko.

She pointed out that, depending on which formula one uses, Colorado is either 42nd or 49th in the nation in per-pupil spending.

“Colorado, I think, does fund a very basic level of education,” she said, arguing that in a state with the second-highest concentration of college degrees in the nation,

schools should offer more than a “basic” education.

“We’ve been fortunate in that our community has been willing to support these additional funds through initiatives. Without that, I don’t know how we could keep up,”

she said. “You get what you pay for.”

kredding@aspentimes.com


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