Housing drives school official out of valley
ASPEN Local school district official Bev Tarpley will be leaving Aspen at the end of the week, another refugee from Aspen’s burgeoning housing crisis.As with so many before her, she’s going back across the Continental Divide to take a job near Colorado Springs in large part because she could not find adequate housing in the Roaring Fork Valley.Nothing remarkable about that, one might say, except that Tarpley has worked the past two years as second in command at the Aspen School District, pulling down a respectable annual salary of $101,000 and living in district-subsidized housing.And still she has been unable to find housing she can afford in a place she feels is comfortable enough and near enough to her job.”We’ve got to solve this problem,” Tarpley said in a recent interview, noting that she is in the same boat as teachers coming into the district.”There’s nothing affordable for those young families coming in,” she declared, in spite of the fact that Aspen has the highest starting teacher starting pay in the state – $40,000 per year, a level she said is tied with a district on the Front Range.
Tarpley, 58, previously had been a colleague of district Superintendent Diana Sirko in the Colorado Springs area before Sirko hired her to come to Aspen two years ago. She is heading back over the Divide to become an assistant superintendent in the Cheyenne Mountain School District, which consists of nine schools.Tarpley said she is leaving the district reluctantly, and complimented “the most incredible staff” of teachers and administrators, as well as the district’s educational and experiential program. She also praised the school board members, whom she said are “bright … committed [and] take their job seriously. They hold our feet to the fire.”She said the Aspen student body is remarkable in many ways, but especially in the way the students are confident and easygoing with teachers and administrators.”You can always get a kid to speak back,” she said, referring to student-teacher interactions in general. “But the Aspen kids speak first,” asking questions, greeting teachers by their first names and generally behaving like old friends.”It is so part of the culture here,” she continued, calling Aspen “amazing in its commitment to children.”In response to a question whether there are any weak points in the district, she thought for a second before responding, “I don’t see any. I guess I’m such a ‘glass-half-full,’ Pollyanna type of person …”
But, she added, “No school district is ever where they want to be.”She said that while Aspen’s standardized test scores are consistently high, they could always be better, although she noted with pride that there was “not one ‘unsatisfactory'” among recent Colorado Student Assessment Program test scores.She also noted with satisfaction that she was part of the district’s review of its social studies and foreign language curricula over the past year, resulting in an array of new textbooks on display in the board room from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.But despite the accomplishments, she said, with only eight years for her to go until retirement age, she and her husband need to settle where they can afford a home. She said that, after selling their home in Woodland Park, outside Colorado Springs, the two have been watching the money they made on the home appreciation “dissolve” because they have been unable to buy a home here.At least eight teachers, she said, have told her they are similarly “losing ground” and are “not far behind us” in making plans to leave the district.One possible solution to the district’s housing dilemma, she said, would be for the city to require that all “accessory dwelling units” built as part of new residential development be occupied by local workers, including teachers.
She said a survey had shown there are more than 250 such ADUs in town, almost all vacant. When the district tried to reach out to the owners last year to see if any could be rented to teachers, they got only two positive responses.In some cases, she said, the property owners offered to rent them for $3,000, which the owners considered a bargain, “But I told them, they [the teachers] don’t earn $3,000 a month, and thanked them for their help.”She said the district owns 18 apartments and three houses (one of which she was living in) and is unable to buy any additional units because of rising values. And without housing, she maintained, the district will have an increasingly difficult time attracting teachers, administrators and other employees.”We’re going to lose our edge as a school district if we don’t solve the housing problem,” she predicted, suggesting the city focus its attention in that direction rather than such things as the Canary Initiative, which she seemed to view as rather nebulous.”I’d rather sit a little while longer in traffic at the roundabout, and see it get a little warmer, if we could do something about the housing problem,” she remarked with a smile.
The head of Aspen’s school district said this week that 33 people, from all over the United States and even in Europe, applied to fill the job Bev Tarpley is vacating.Superintendent Diana Sirko has narrowed the field to six, one of whom is from Colorado, and hopes to name the new assistant superintendent by next week.”We’re sad that Bev is leaving,” said Sirko, who has known Tarpley for a decade. “She has wonderful skills, and she’s a great friend and a great colleague. She’ll be missed.”Sirko has pulled together a committee of principals and staff, and will be looking for someone with a broad range of skills but particularly the ability to oversee the district’s curriculum and programs, keep tabs on the computer technology facilities and work with the special education department. The job carries a starting salary of $98,000 per year.Tarpley said in a recent interview that the special education duties take up at least half her week, and that like everywhere else in the United States, the Aspen School District is experiencing an increase in its enrollment in the special education and “severe needs” categories.Tarpley said she and Sirko have discussed the need to hire a new administrator to deal almost exclusively with the special education population, which currently numbers around 98, plus the 10 or so severe-needs children.But, Sirko said, “that’s our long-term goal.” She said there is no money in the budget for such a position right now.Another “major piece of the job,” Sirko said, will be working with the annual Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. Tarpley was particularly adept at what she called “data mining” and looking for trends on which to base future decisions, and Sirko said she is looking for someone with the same abilities.Sirko said she hopes to have a replacement on board by late July or early August, and that the school board will have the final say on the hiring.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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