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Low student numbers to mean less jobs

Allyn Harvey

Teachers in the Aspen School District learned last week that as many as 11 positions could be eliminated next year, especially if enrollment doesn’t increase.

District Superintendent Tom Farrell confirmed Friday that his office is looking at the possibility of staff cuts next year, but he estimates that only a few jobs, maybe three or four, will actually be lost.

“For two years in a row, we’ve had a small decline in overall enrollment, and over the last five years, enrollment at the elementary school has fallen by a little over 50 students,” Farrell said.

Enrollment at the elementary school has fallen from 504 to 452 over the last five years. The district receives about $8,000 per student, so the decline in enrollment means a decline in revenue of about $400,000.

“The question to me is if we don’t see an increase in enrollment, then we should be reviewing the district’s employment picture,” Farrell said.

A representative of the local teachers union could not be reached for comment.

Farrell said he anticipates no layoffs. Instead, any cutbacks would be made through attrition, by not hiring replacements when certain employees leave the district.

He also said he did not think the cutbacks would affect teachers. Instead, the cutbacks would be made from the ranks of administrators, support staff and professional service providers, such as counselors.

Even so, the possibility of 11 positions going unfilled next year presents teachers with something to think about.

Farrell said the number represents the number of teachers hired a few years back when the state Legislature gave districts the money and authorization to shore up their operations budgets. He couldn’t say exactly when that decision was made by the Legislature.

“It allowed us to hire for more positions, which we might have needed at the time, but now it’s time to reassess those staff levels,” he said.

Part of that reassessment will take a look at what positions might be filled by the northwest Colorado Bureau of Cooperative Educational Services, a state-mandated organization that brings school districts together to share costs wherever possible, including some counseling and special education.

“If a position opens up, and we can get it filled for next to nothing by BOCES, we’ll go with it,” Farrell said.

Farrell said he’s confident the decline in enrollment at the elementary school won’t have a long-term impact on the district’s overall enrollment. He noted that neither the middle school nor the high school have seen much change in enrollment over the last several years – this year’s dip in the number of high school students is the first he remembers. He said a number of factors are likely to make the dip a temporary one.

Programs like International Baccalaureate, which allows high school students to pick up as much as a year of college credit before they graduate, are designed to make Aspen High School more attractive to those who might otherwise go to private school.

Once Burlingame and other affordable housing projects currently in the works are complete, Farrell reckons enrollment will begin to rise again.


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