School board made a hard, but correct decision
One of the hardest things for an elected board to do is to raise taxes or fees on its constituents. Generally, the public doesn’t like to hand over more money, and even when they vote to do so, the elections are hard-fought and controversial.
So, it took guts for the Aspen School District board to decide this week to begin charging $200 per month for full-day kindergarten. Though most public school expenses are borne by the state, Colorado only pays for a half-day of kindergarten. For years, the Aspen district has covered the cost of the full day for its kindergartners, but in light of a budget deficit approaching $1 million, the board decided to start charging parents for the extra half-day.
This decision will cause many parents some pain, but it was the right thing to do.
Why? Because, as outlined in this week’s cover story, the district has been deficit spending for years and it’s time to bring the budget into balance.
Over the last decade or so, the Aspen School District has reduced a healthy $7 million reserve to about $2 million, paying ongoing operational costs with funds that won’t be replenished. These expenditures helped maintain a high educational standard that Aspenites can and should be proud of, but the deficit spending couldn’t last forever.
It has fallen to a new board and administration to restore fiscal prudence, and subsidized, full-day kindergarten was an obvious and appropriate place to start.
According to district officials, most Colorado schools don’t offer full-day kindergarten, and the minority that does offer the service charges for it, usually between $250 and $350 per month. Around the country, only nine states fund full-day kindergarten, according to the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.
Aspen was giving its parents a unique and generous gift that it probably shouldn’t have. Now that the reserve, built mainly through the sale of the Yellow Brick and Red Brick school buildings to the city of Aspen, is gone, the district has no choice but to address this subsidy.
In fact, though board members decided to charge the tuition fees, they could have gone much further than they did. The district loses some $400,000 per year by offering free full-day kindergarten, and intends to recoup only about a quarter of that sum with the new fees. That seems pretty charitable to us ” perhaps too much so, given that most affected parents can probably afford the full cost of the extra half-day.
Arguably, the Aspen school board didn’t go far enough. Sorry, parents, but rather than complaining about the tuition charges, maybe you should thank the board for its restraint.
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