District: Tuition plan inevitable | AspenTimes.com

District: Tuition plan inevitable

Eben Harrell

Charging tuition for kindergarten in the Aspen School District is all but inevitable, but the charges may not go into effect until 2005, the school board revealed last night.

The board also promised to set up a financial aid fund for lower-income families if the charges go ahead.

The announcements came after two hours of discussion at Aspen High in which approximately 25 parents and residents expressed concern over the tuition plan.

The school district recently launched a three-year program to balance a nearly $1 million deficit. One of the measures recommended for next year is to scrap a long-standing district policy of offering free full-day kindergarten. Because the state only reimburses schools for a half day of kindergarten, the district loses approximately $400,000 a year by offering full days for free.

All five members said they support the idea of tuition, but three of the five (enough to pass a decision) said they would delay charges for a year in order to give parents, teachers and administrators ample time to prepare.

“If we delay, that allows our parents to prepare for the expense, our teachers to prepare a half-day program, and us to educate [parents] on the importance of a full day of kindergarten,” Peirce said.

Board members Sally Hansen and Jon Seigle disagreed, arguing that the financial situation demanded action be taken expediently.

“I guess I’m anxious to get going,” Seigle said. “This is part of a three-year program. Anything we get now makes it easier for us.”

A final decision must be made by June, when the school’s budget is finalized.

Parents, residents and teachers all expressed concern that parents who could not afford the tuition, or would rather spend more time with their children, would opt to send their students only for half days. They said this would be detrimental to the emotional and intellectual development of the students.

School district Superintendent Diana Sirko countered that all parents would be able to pay the tuition. Although the district could earn up to $400,000, it had only budgeted to save $150,000 through tuition. The rest would be used to offer financial aid.

The district said tuition will be paid on a sliding scale ranging up to $320 a month. Support will be need-based and determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s income guidelines for its free lunch program in high-cost living areas.

“We understand the importance of a full day of kindergarten. We want to make sure that no one decides not to do a full day of kindergarten because they can’t pay for it,” Seigle said.

Seigle ended the meeting by encouraging district parents to participate in the Aspen Education Foundation’s Step-up program, an initiative launched to help the district out of its financial crunch. Currently, only 14 percent of district parents donate money to the foundation’s program. Seigle said greater participation would make the discussion of tuition moot.

“This problem would just go away if we got 80 percent of our parents to participate in Step-up,” he said.

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