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Sunshine for schools

Eben Harrell

It was a good day for Aspen’s schools yesterday.

State officials announced strong standardized test scores by local students and an 11th-hour bailout in the Colorado Legislature that will increase the district’s funding next year.

Aspen scored well above state averages for third-grade reading and will next year receive nearly $200,000 more state funding than anticipated.

The news came as a welcome relief to Aspen’s educators, who are in the middle of a financial crunch that saw the district’s budget deficit swell to nearly $1 million this year.

“It felt nice to get some really good news,” district Superintendent Diana Sirko said.

Each May, the state releases the results of the third-grade reading tests as part of the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP). Third-grade reading levels were set in 1993 as a major determining factor for the state’s literacy plan.

In Aspen, 93 percent of third-graders scored at or above proficient on the tests, compared to a state average of 74 percent. The results are consistent with previous years.

“This is a good credit to the efforts of Aspen’s early education program,” Sirko said. “It’s great for the teachers but also the parents, who I believe really help by getting their kids to read at home.”

The Roaring Fork School District – which includes schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs – did not fair as well, with only 55 percent of students scoring at or above proficient.

Months of wrangling over state funding came to a school-friendly end yesterday as well, with the state using money from its legal settlement with Big Tobacco companies to increase funding to school districts by 2.1 percent.

At one point, Aspen officials feared the increase in funding would be as small as 0.5 percent.

Sirko said the tobacco money bailout will bring in approximately $238,000, $181,000 more than anticipated.

The 2.1 percent increase falls in line with Amendment 23, passed by Colorado voters in 2000, which attempts to make up for years of dwindling school funds by boosting per-pupil funding at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent.

Complicating the matter this year was the 1991 TABOR Amendment (Taxpayer Bill of Rights), which linked state spending to the rate of inflation. Due to economic stagnation, Amendment 23 conflicted directly with TABOR.

After much legislative wrangling, state officials decided to use tobacco money as a temporary resolution to the conflict.

The unexpected money provides a welcome boost as the district works to eliminate its deficit, according to Sirko.

“This is good news,” she said. “It’s such a large deficit that we won’t make any big changes to what we have proposed for budget reductions next year. But it still helps.”

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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