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State budget cuts will impact Aspen schools

Aspen High School
Aspen Times file photo

With the state eying $3.3 billion in cuts that will include education funding, leaders at the Aspen School District are backing off previously planned capital expenditures as well as the purchase of new buses, while employment attrition also is on the table.

School board President Susan Marolt, however, said the 1,600-plus-student district is not considering laying off or furloughing employees at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is factoring into most every business decision made by companies, organizations and governments.

“We have not had any conversations about that,” she said, adding district officials are examining the district’s financial picture beyond the current year.

During a financial update presentation at the board of education’s most recent meeting May 4, district CFO Linda Warhoe said Aspen public schools could see $1.3 million to $2.2 million in decreased state funding because of budget cuts stemming from the economic crash. Warhoe said those assumptions are based on the school resuming in-person classes in August.

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As a result, the district temporarily shelved the planned purchase of new school buses for $254,000 as well as another $275,000 in remodeling improvements to campus structures, Warhoe told the board.

Employment attrition also is reflected in the district’s decision to not immediately fill the curriculum director position Jenna Barclay will exit at the end of the semester, Warhoe said.

Marolt added that “the board and Dave (Baugh, the incoming superintendent scheduled to start July 1) feel like that’s a really important position, but we need to sort that out.”

The district, however, plans to fill the vacancy of executive director of student services, a position Heather Abraham is leaving at semester’s end. It currently is hiring for the position.

A third administrative post, transportation director, is being filled by its assistant director, Reghan Mahaffey. Outgoing director Gary Vavra is retiring.

Most of the school district’s local funding comes from property tax collections in Pitkin County.

Of the district’s $34.9 million in revenue in fiscal year 2018, $24.1 million of that came from property tax revenue, based on financial records.

The assessed property values in the district totaled $2.9 billion in 2018, according to ASD financial records. It was $3.2 billion as of December 2019.

The school district also generates revenue through 0.3 sales tax Aspen voters approved in 2012 and renewed in 2016. It accounts for about $2 million annually and “fills the financing gap between the amount of funds that the state is required to provide the district annually and the amount that it actually provides,” according to the district’s website. Snowmass Village voters, also in 2016, approved a town mill levy that supports the district.

While Marolt said sales tax collections are expected to be well below projections, property taxes should remain the same. Both the Snowmass mill levy and Aspen sales tax expire at the end of 2021, the same year Pitkin County will reassess property values.

Aspen has enjoyed some of the highest per-pupil funding in the state because of local revenue sources. In 2017, per-pupil funding in the ASD was $25,566, with $21,422 coming from local revenue, according to Common Sense Policy Roundtable’s analysis of K-12 funding in Colorado. The report came out in August 2019.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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