School finance overhaul closer to reality for Aspen School District
A bill that revises how Colorado’s public schools are funded — and one that could leave the Aspen School District short by about $1.5 million annually — is one step closer to reality.
“Senate Bill 213 is definitely moving forward, and that’s not great news for us,” said district Finance Director Kate Fuentes.
The school finance overhaul signed into law last week by Gov. John Hickenlooper still depends on voters approving some $1 billion a year in new taxes in the November election, but that doesn’t mean local school officials are taking the news lightly.
“If this goes through as currently drafted, the negative factor we have been working with for years becomes permanent; there is no chance these dollars will ever come back to us,” Fuentes said, explaining that while the bill improves the bottom line for some school districts, it does the reverse for places such as Aspen as it eliminates a critical cost-of-living factor from the funding formula.
According to Fuentes, if the law goes into effect, the Aspen School District will need to find a permanent source of income to make up an estimated $1.5 million gap annually. The law would not affect the 2013-14 budget, which the Board of Education is likely to approve at its June 3 meeting.
“We’re in a good place for the coming school year,” she said. “But the future is uncertain. Though, thanks to the generosity of our community and taxpayers, we have a cushion. We will not have to slash programs or staff for the duration of the sales tax.”
Aspen voters approved a sales tax increase for education in November that is expected to generate $1.75 million annually. But the measure, which includes a sunset clause, was not intended to be a permanent source of income.
“We thought we were covering a gap with this — until property taxes rebounded or the finance formula was reworked to our benefit,” Fuentes said. “But I think it’s becoming clear to us that we might have to go to taxpayers once again in the future to find a permanent source of funding.”
For now, Fuentes and district administrators will continue to monitor the progress on Senate Bill 213 as well as lobby for changes before its final version is presented to voters so districts such as Aspen are not negatively impacted.
“We are going to spend a lot of time this summer and fall talking with our state representatives and school administrators in other mountain communities about the negative impact of SB213,” she said. “Our hope is that it can be amended to address some of the things that were not well-thought-out before it goes to voters.”
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