School board election: What do candidates think about school funding?

Aspen Journalism
Sandra Peirce
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Previous answers:

Part one: Please describe your reasons for seeking a seat on the Aspen School District Board of Education and how you feel you could contribute.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times have asked the five candidates for the Aspen School District Board of Education to answer five questions leading up to the election. We are publishing their answers to each question over five days. The five candidates are vying for two four-year seats. The newly elected board will then appoint a third two-year seat after the election.

Q: Funding is a tough matter for all Colorado schools. Do you support the Aspen district’s current strategies to supplement state money with local funds, and are there other options that you’d recommend?

Margeaux Johansson

The board’s current strategies to counter reduced state funding are necessary first steps, but we must do more to find creative solutions for permanent funding that does not further burden the Aspen School District taxpayers. One obvious solution is to focus on fundraising from private donations through the Aspen Education Foundation, but we need to do more. I will advocate for seeking further creative funding solutions. For instance, in Vermont, non-residential homeowners contribute nearly half of the funding for educational spending in the state, which is raised through local property taxes. Aspen has an incredibly wealthy nonresident tax base, which is underutilized for education funding. We need to look at creative ways for them to contribute their fair share to the school district so that the resident Aspen School District taxpayers are not further burdened.

Sheila Wills

Last school year, the state cut approximately 13 percent from almost every district’s budget. This year, those cuts totaled $855 million statewide and $2.2 million locally.

During my tenure on the board, we analyzed the resources the district will require to maintain its current program level, continue to attract and retain highly qualified staff and care for its existing school buildings and campus. We then looked at the available funding sources and created the long-term financial plan that starts with 3A on the November ballot. Local funding sources are the only dependable, long-term sources potentially available. This community has very little control over decisions made at the state level. By making a commitment to the proposed long-term plan, the voters will provide the district the ability to focus on providing the highest-quality education possible instead of repeatedly creating tiered budget-reduction strategies that respond to the fiscal whims of the Colorado Legislature.

Sandra Peirce

I support the district’s financial strategy. The Supreme Court’s decision awarding the “negative factor” constitutional status, assures continued loss of state funds. The board developed the district’s first 10-year financial plan. The path to long-term, sustainable, financial stability for the district is the board’s “three prong” approach: 1) Take advantage of the mill levy override. 2) Continue the city of Aspen’s 0.3 percent sales tax. 3) Develop a financial contribution from Snowmass Village.

Considering the limitations imposed by the School Finance Act and the provisions of Gallagher and TABOR amendments, the plan developed by this school board is innovative, comprehensive and sustainable.

Lee Mulcahy

Yes; vastly expanded Aspen Education Foundation fundraising instead of planning to demand yet another tax raise in 2016. We spend $14,000 per student, which is about twice the state average. In our recent debate, my opponent stated that “we should collect as much mill-levy tax as we can.” With both incumbents’ recent endorsement to outfit a school bus like a private jet with LED lighting, captains’ chairs and Wi-Fi at a cost of $40,000, at some point the board will lose the trust of citizens.

Mary Houchin

I promote the district’s current strategy supplementing state money with local funds.

I support 3A. I advocate for the renewal of the Aspen sales tax hoping Snowmass Village will examine financial avenues to assist our schools.

Securing local funding through continued private and public partnerships is beneficial. Examples of partnerships include: Funding for Excellence Committee, which solicits contributions; campaigning for 3A; and the Aspen Education Foundation, which operates under the sole mission of providing charitable funding to the district.

Reforms in the school finance bill may also assist.