School board approves nearly $45 million budget for 2002-03

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Aspen school board approved a nearly $45 million district budget for 2002-03 Monday night, along with the use of $1.13 million in funds garnered from a property tax increase passed by voters in November.

The tax increase is meant to help teachers’ cost-of-living expenses. However, two members of the newly reformed District Accountability Committee (DAC) disputed the allocation of all but $79,000 of the cost-of-living referendum money.

A document submitted by a DAC subcommittee charged with reviewing the district’s budget requested that the board refrain from allocating all of the referendum money at one time.

“The cost-of-living election does not require all funds to be allocated to increases for just one category of expense, and therefore, limited or no action should be taken on the uncommitted funds” for the time being, the document states.

The board ended weeks of discussion yesterday by approving the budget for the district’s three main schools. The budget includes $20 million for construction. The budget for the district’s charter school, the Aspen Community School, will be reviewed at a later date.

The board made a final amendment to its list of expenditures, boosting the DAC’s budget from $6,500 to $15,000. The extra funding, officials said, will be used for projects such as district surveys, construction of the organization’s Web site and the preparation and printing of an annual district report.

Before the board approved the district’s operating budget, members also reviewed recommendations concerning the money raised by last year’s cost-of-living vote. The referendum, which results in an extra $1.1 million for the district each year, was billed as a way for Aspen to attract and retain the best possible teachers.

The district’s salary task force – organized to make recommendations on how to best distribute the money – presented several additional suggestions to the board Monday. The recommendations, including the hiring of an extra high school English teacher, a district human resources director, a raise in salary for support staff and the payment of insurance premiums for certain employees, would have resulted in the allocation in all but $79,000 of this year’s tax increase.

DAC president Susan Zimet and DAC budget committee member Gary Beach were on hand to discuss the organization’s recommendations. They also further protested the loss of nearly all of the cost-of-living funds available for next year. Beach reported that over 75 percent of next year’s budget would go toward salaries and benefits, and, though Beach and Zimet said they fully supported the raises teachers received thanks to the cost-of-living adjustment, both requested that even a small amount of the supplemental funds be saved for other district needs.

“I still think an incredible percentage of this $1.1 million was allocated toward one specific cost,” Beach said.

After hearing the DAC’s concerns, the board moved to approve the salary task force’s recommendations along with the 2002-03 budget.

Though the board gave its initial approval of the Aspen School District budget to meet a deadline set by the state, the board can amend the district numbers until Oct. 15.