Changes and charges for kindergarten |

Changes and charges for kindergarten

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The future of kindergarten in Aspen changed dramatically last night.

At a meeting of the Aspen School Board, members decided to charge parents tuition and give entering out-of-district students with in-district siblings priority in admissions, a reversal of a controversial decision taken by the board last month.

Both actions were influenced by the announcement of a budget deficit of nearly $1 million.

Colorado’s state government only reimburses schools for a half day of kindergarten. Charging parents for afternoon sessions will bring approximately $150,000 to district coffers, according to school Superintendent Diana Sirko.

It also brings Aspen in line with other districts, Sirko told the board.

“This will be difficult for some parents to accept,” she said. “But it’s not an unusual policy. The Roaring Fork district charges for kindergarten. When you’re facing such a devastating budget, you have to make some tough decisions.”

The district’s chief financial officer, Bill Anuszewski, said the cost of tuition has not yet been decided, but will fall somewhere between $300 to $400 per month. The Roaring Fork School District charges $266 a month. Local daycare centers charge around $400 a month.

Board member Alice Davis supported tuition, but expressed concern that it would lower the number of children in school for the full day.

“It’s important to have kids on the same level entering first grade,” Davis said. “I don’t think that’s possible unless all the students have a full day of kindergarten.”

In deciding to give priority to entering out-of-district kindergartens with siblings in Aspen schools, the board reversed a Feb. 9 action in which the school board responded to worries of overcrowding by setting limits on class size and out-of-district enrollment. In direct contradiction with the recommendations of a community panel and prior district policy, the board decided not to give priority to students with in-district siblings.

The board said that favoring students with siblings in Aspen discriminated against single-child parents.

In response to intense pressure by community members, however, the board decided to reinstate a priority system. Students with in-district siblings will be accepted first. If spaces remain, a lottery will be held for remaining out-of-district students.

The board hopes the priority system, along with class-size guidelines, will maintain the high level of out-of-district enrollment without sacrificing the student-teacher ratio. It will also help the deficit ” out-of-district students bring in large amounts of state funds for the district.

A tear-stricken, out-of-district parent thanked the board for reversing the decision.

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