Enrollment dip forces school-budget cutback
An unprecedented decline in enrollment at Aspen’s public schools has forced district officials to trim $52,000 from the budget to reflect a drop in per-pupil funding from the state.
The district has responded by cutting funds from capital reserves, staff development and eliminating a math tutor position that was never filled to begin with, according to Superintendent Tom Farrell. None of the cuts will have a direct impact on students, he said.
Like other public schools in Colorado, the Aspen School District receives about $7,000 for each of its students. When enrollment figures came in beneath expectations this year, it left a shortfall in revenue, Farrell explained.
The district’s enrollment, at 1,271 students, is down 17 students from last year. The drop is a first in Farrell’s tenure, he said.
“It’s really the first decline in enrollment in the 12 years that I’ve been here,” he said. “And the entire decline came from the elementary school, which is even more disappointing because that means fewer kids are likely to come through the system.”
Farrell said elementary school enrollment is down about 50 students, while middle and high school numbers are up slightly.
However, from a funding perspective, districtwide enrollment is down 27.5 students, said Joe Tarbet, the district’s finance director.
“Some students only count for half,” Tarbet said of the discrepancy between the actual enrollment drop and the decline from a funding perspective. “Either the students are taking half-credit or they are kindergartners, and the state only pays half for kindergartners.”
Farrell stressed that the budget cuts made to make up for the $52,000 shortfall will have little effect on students.
“We cut some capital reserve money from the elementary school, $10,000 from the staff development account – that had been specifically earmarked for district assessments, and the rest of it came from an unfilled position at the high school,” Farrell said. The Aspen Education Foundation may help replace funds taken from staff development, he added.
“This is the first time we ever had to cut a budget, and I think we were able to do so without having any impact on the children,” Farrell said.
“It’s a small amount of money for a big budget,” he noted. The district operates with an annual budget of about $10 million.
Other nearby school districts – such as the Roaring Fork School District, and districts in Vail, Eagle and Rifle – have also been experiencing declining or flat enrollments, Farrell said. Aspen’s enrollment has remained flat for the last few years, though Farrell expects it to rebound next year.
“We anticipate that our numbers will pick up again,” he said, “and actually, if we just picked up eight more kids next year, that will take care of our deficit.”
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.