More housing for Aspen teachers? |

More housing for Aspen teachers?

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Even with the city of Aspen’s Burlingame scandal fresh in voters’ minds, another entity might put the question of affordable housing on the November ballot.

The Aspen School District might ask voters to authorize $25 million in debt to build more affordable housing for their teachers. Bonds would be sold to pay for the debt, and the repayment cost to the district would be no more than $44 million.

“We have a sense of urgency about addressing the housing issue, so we may need to gamble on what impact Burlingame will have,” said Aspen School District superintendent Diana Sirko. She pointed out that voters recently have trusted the district with building a new high school and middle school.

“What we hope is that we’ve established a public record of promises made, promises kept,” she said.

The district recently polled voters to gauge their receptiveness to a bond issue. The poll, which was undertaken before the Burlingame cost overruns were brought to light, found voters receptive to the idea of affordable housing for teachers.

Of the 303 voters surveyed, 68 percent said they would vote yes on a ballot measure. Voters were less receptive once they heard the numbers: Only 46 percent approved of the additional $35 in property taxes per $500,000 of house value.

Oddly, however, 59 percent of those who actually owned homes were willing to pay the additional property taxes.

The school district has 22 housing units, which no longer meets its teachers’ needs. At a school board meeting meeting on Tuesday, Sirko said she recently received three calls and two e-mails from teachers who needed housing for the following year. In August, she said, she often finds herself scrambling to replace teachers who couldn’t find housing. And every spring, teachers leave the district because of the cost of housing.

The Board of Education hasn’t decided whether they would acquire existing housing or build its own. However, it already owns several parcels of land that could accommodate some of the needed housing.

Another big decision the board must make is whether to partner with separate entity that also needs to build affordable housing.

Terry Casey, a financial advisor to the board, pointed out that most potential partners, such as the Aspen valley Hospital or Aspen Skiing Co., aren’t ready to build housing as soon as the school district is.

Still, even when voters were told that a partnership could require the Aspen School District to wait several years for other taxing districts to “settle their finances,” only 52 percent of those polled thought the school district should go it alone.

Casey warned the board that if it chose to put the issue on the ballot this November, it will want to clearly articulate its decision “to go it alone” and the need for haste.

“You really cannot do anything more for your teachers, period,” said Casey, pointing out the state will not allow the board to raise salaries.

Building affordable housing, said Casey, might be one of the only ways to ensure that good teachers still can teach in Aspen.

The board has until Sept. 5 to get a question on the November ballot.

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