Aspen school board not giving up on bond question
School board members as recently as March were discussing the idea of asking voters to approve around $30 million in bonds for major on-campus capital improvements, but that was when public meetings were held in-person and the globe wasn’t in the throes of a pandemic.
On Tuesday during a board meeting conducted by video conference on Google Hangouts, the five-member board wasn’t ready to abandon the bond question despite the crippled economy. The board instead agreed that it wants to see how the next few months play out before deciding whether the bond question should be posed to the Aspen School District electorate this fall.
The board must let the county clerk know by July 24 — 100 days before the Nov. 3 election — if it plans to bring a bond question to the general election, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s election calendar. The board has until the end of August to adopt ballot language.
“At this point we’re feeling like it’s sort of a good idea to go for this and to take this to the voters,” board President Susan Marolt said. “But we also have seen a lot of things change in the last month that we never thought would change.”
Unanticipated changes have included a remote-learning system the district implemented April 1 and will now keep through the end of the 2019-20 school year following Gov. Jared Polis’ order Monday.
Questions about graduation ceremonies are a topic Aspen High Principal Tharyn Mulberry said regularly occupies seniors’ minds — mainly when, where and how they will take place. Mulberry, who becomes the district’s assistant superintendent July 1, said a graduation-style parade through town has been discussed, while the Aspen Music Festival is keeping its Benedict Tent — venue of the commencement exercises in recent years — available through July 11.
“It’s amazing to me how much kids want to see that traditional, ceremonial celebration at the end of the year,” Mulberry said. “So they’re feeling a bit cheated.”
The ASD is bracing for financial setbacks this year due to fallout from the pandemic. Chief Financial Officer Linda Warhoe said the district could see $2 million to $3 million less in revenue this year from the School Finance Act, which is part of the state budget that the Legislature must pass by the end of June.
Even so, ASD board members said the district’s needs are not going away.
The bond proposal would help fund such capital improvements as upgrading security, relocating the bus barn, building more worker housing and expanding learning, child care, athletic and performing-arts facilities.
Learning and instructional space remain an issue for teachers and students. At Tuesday’s meeting during a discussion about the ASD’s internationally competitive robotics program, one of the instructors said they lack the proper facilities and work in the gymnasium basement.
One advantage of asking voters this year is because the ADS’s voter-approved bonds from 2005 could be rolled into the new bonds from the November ballot, board members and the CFO said. Delaying the question until November 2021 would mean voters would be asked to approve, possibly, a new tax.
The school board and ASD officials have been working with the Cunningham Group, a national master-planning firm for major projects, as well as Aspen architect Gilbert Sanchez and McKinstry Co., a Seattle-based construction engineering company.
Marolt said she has asked them for a phased schedule of costs for each step of the capital improvement project.
The community has a history of supporting Aspen schools at the polls, noted board member Dwayne Romero.
“We can take the long view that this community has time and again been able to practice the long view” of supporting Aspen schools, he said.
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