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Housing eases teacher woes

Tim Mutrie

With the recent addition of 26 units to its housing stock, Aspen School District officials are now hopeful that the once imminent teacher-hiring crisis can be avoided.

“A year ago, if you had asked me if this was possible, I’d say no,” district Superintendent Tom Farrell said yesterday. “In fact, a year ago, I was pushing panic buttons trying to figure out how to staff this district. Now, I’m pretty comfortable.”

Given the cost of living in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, coupled with the modest salaries paid to public school teachers in Colorado, hiring qualified teachers has been a nagging problem for the district in recent years. And further compounding matters, a good number of Aspen teachers have indicated that they plan to retire in the next few years.

“This year we’ll probably need to replace between six and ten teachers,” Farrell said. “Over the next three years, we’re talking closer to about twenty teachers retiring, and you always lose a couple along the way in addition to that.”

Now, the district’s new housing units will help entice new teachers to Aspen, as well as house teachers who are already here, Farrell said. The new units include eight at the Aspen Business Center, 10 at West Ranch in Woody Creek and eight at the Moore development next to the school campus.

“Hiring has changed significantly,” Farrell said, “because these rentals are a great deal; there’s no better deal out there. It’s going to be a big-time selling point for us in the district in terms of hiring.

“And current teachers now know that they some day may be able to purchase a unit at the Moore property, and it’s a tremendous boost for morale,” he continued. “They appreciate what we’re doing for them.”

Farrell said the ABC units – six two-bedroom units and two one-bedrooms – will likely be filled with newly hired teachers.

The 10 two- and three-bedroom units at West Ranch should be available by the end of March. Seven or eight of the units will be allocated to already employed teachers with families, and two or three will be made available to new hires with families, Farrell said.

Three of the six Moore category units have been allocated to longtime teachers, Farrell said. At least one is already occupied and the two other are nearly ready. The three remaining Moore category units, which should be built in a year or two, will be made available to other established teachers with families, Farrell said.

“The six units at the Moore property I see as more of a reward system,” Farrell said. “The teachers have been here for some time already, and they’ll be able to buy the units, own them and then retire in them.”

The district will also have two RO Moore units – to be ready in a year or two – which will likely be allocated to administrators, Farrell said.

“For the Moore category units, we had interested teachers sign up and we selected the first three on three criteria: seniority, the number of years in the district – and also the number of years we anticipate that they have remaining in the district – and the difficulty in filling the position that the teacher is in.

“First priority goes to district employees, but from within, the priority would be administrators, teachers, and then support staff, such as teacher aides, custodians, bus drivers,” Farrell explained. He added that the district hopes to continue to acquire employee housing to accommodate more of its 120 full-time employees.

School board member Jon Seigle, whom Farrell credited for spearheading the district’s housing acquisitions, said the total cost of the district’s new units is approximately $3 million.

“But it all carries itself – the renters will carry the mortgage, and it’s all financed by local banks so the district hasn’t had to put up any money,” Seigle said.


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