Schools will benefit from tax increase
On Tuesday, residents of Aspen will be presented with ballot question 2B, which asks voters to increase the city sales tax by 0.3 percent for four years to help fund the public schools.
How is it that one of America’s wealthiest communities needs to present its residents with a sales tax increase?
The answer is both simple and complex. Let’s keep it simple.
First, the state of Colorado and the county of Pitkin enjoy some of the lowest property-tax rates in the country. This fact alone should remind us how much the Aspen School District has achieved on its own merits, and when compared to lavishly funded school districts, which are part of high-property-tax counties. Without the structural support of higher property taxes, the Aspen School District will continue to seek ways to fund its financial needs if it is to continue as the great school system it is.
Second, state funding always has played an important role in providing funds for Colorado’s school districts, and the economic downturn, followed by the anemic economic recovery, has resulted in continued pressure on Colorado’s ability to fund education. Specifically, the state is unable to fund more than $1 billion to school districts across
Colorado and already more than 30 percent of school districts in
Colorado have moved to a four-day week; the Aspen School District budget is affected by this reality. The funds that have enabled the Aspen schools to do what they have done over the last few years are no longer available; the district’s budget has been reduced by $2 million over the last four years, and by 2016 an additional $2.5 million in cuts is projected.
Third, this is a sales tax initiative. A few years ago a temporary increase in the mill levy override was utilized for transportation and technology (it expired in 2010); schools were closed for two days in 2010 and were already closed for one day in 2012. Without the sales tax, 15 staff salaries could be at risk, class sizes will increase, and impacted programs could include athletics, transportation, experiential education, and the gifted and talented program. Aspen has great schools, and the funding of them will not, and should not, abate.
Our federal government, states and municipalities sell bonds and levy taxes to finance themselves. The Aspen School District has to pursue its own measures to continue to finance itself so as to pay its top-notch administrative and teaching staff, to maintain and expand its physical infrastructure, to build a new track, and to invest in technology. The schools have ongoing financial needs; this should not be a surprise, and must be understood as a normal part of running the business called the Aspen School District.
Our community values education. Vote “yes” for 2B to help the Aspen School District maintain a sound financial underpinning for the next four years.
Jeffrey P. Siegel
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