School district to appoint `capacity, class size’ board |

School district to appoint `capacity, class size’ board

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Aspen School District will use a task force of parents, teachers and other stakeholders to shape its policies on class size and out-of-district enrollment.

These issues are too “emotionally charged” to be handled by administrators alone, members of the Aspen School Board agreed at their Monday meeting.

The Choice, Capacity and Class Size Task Force will enlist 25-30 community members over the next few weeks as the district struggles with its definition of “capacity.” Expanding enrollment and cramped facilities are beginning to have a negative effect on the school district, administrators agree, and the school board must intervene.

Before resorting to the “disinvite” – asking out-of-district students to leave Aspen schools in order to alleviate growing class sizes – the board will seek input from the community in preparation. The task force will collect enrollment data and analyze building capacity as it assists the school board in creating policies and guidelines regarding these issues.

The task force will come together this month as district Superintendent Dr. Diana Sirko helps to appoint members. The first meeting will likely take place on Oct. 8, with discussions continuing through December.

Task force recommendations will be presented to the school board in early January, with final decisions and policies made by February.

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This time line will make for “a pretty intense two or three months of work,” warned school board president Augie Reno. It will also require a certain level of commitment from members, who have that “four or five hours a month” to commit to the group.

One mother who attended yesterday’s meeting expressed concern that involving parents – especially those of out-of-district children – would create an “emotionally charged” atmosphere that would stymie the task force. Board members and school administrators countered that, without input from all stakeholders, the task force could not reach a satisfactory conclusion on the issue.

“The whole purpose of the task force is to try to take this issue and develop an appropriate, rational and fair policy,” said board member Jon Seigle.

Sitting in on policy discussions also helps stakeholders explore the opposing view, board members agreed.

“Parents becoming involved and learning both sides of the issue is invaluable,” said board member Alice Davis.

Task force members will learn a lot about the issue at hand, board members note. Each will be briefed on school district policy and preferences for enrollments and class sizes, as well as state laws regarding in-district and out-of-district students. The latter, of course, will determine the outcome of the task force’s deliberations.

The group will also explore the fiscal impacts of open and limited enrollment. Turning away out-of-district students will lead to smaller class sizes, Sirko notes, but will result in thousands of dollars in lost revenue from the state. The task force must help the district strike a balance, Sirko said.

Parents assembled for Monday’s meeting worried that financial issues have led school administrators to make premature decisions about future enrollment. Sirko countered that policies are not concrete without community input.

“I want to be careful about determining any outcomes here,” she said. Instead, the district will tap the task force and “then make some determinations that are best for the kids.”

Those interested in joining the Choice, Capacity and Class Size Task Force are encouraged to contact Sirko, the group facilitator, at the Aspen School District Office.