Aspen Times endorsement: Vote yes for Aspen schools
Voters in Pitkin County have a strong history of approving local funding questions that benefit schools, and we’re asking them to support the education-related questions before them in this fall’s election.
Publicity surrounding Aspen public schools over the past seven months has mainly concerned the COVID-19 pandemic and how the district will continue to educate its approximately 1,800 students across the elementary, middle and high schools, as well as the K-8 Aspen Community School in Woody Creek.
On Tuesday, the schools opened to in-person learning, albeit in hybrid modes for the middle and high schools, making it the first time the K-12 schools all had been open at the same time since the pandemic struck in March.
That marked a major step toward fully reopening classes to live learning, but for nearly two years the district also has been working on a master facilities plan that emphasizes more housing for teachers and staff, as well as capital improvements.
The work has culminated in the form of Issue 4A, a question asking voters in the Aspen School District — which encompasses Aspen, Snowmass Village and such unincorporated towns as Woody Creek and Old Snowmass — to approve a $94.3 million bond proposal.
Among the improvements school leaders have pledged through the bond:
• Teacher housing is the biggest component. The district has struggled in recent years to retain teachers because of the cost of living here, the lack of housing and their pay hasn’t been sufficient for them to afford anything on the free market.
Bond money cannot go toward employee compensation, but it can help fund the purchase and/or construction of roughly 50 housing units within the district for teachers. Other funding would go toward the maintenance of the district’s existing 43 housing units it rents to staff.
• Relocating The Cottage Preschool, which currently is near the high school, to the bus barn location. In turn, a new bus barn would be built on a location that has yet to be determined. The bond proposal also includes the district’s purchasing of electric buses and vehicles.
• An upgrade to Aspen District Theatre, an on-campus venue used by both students and public organizations. Improvements include a new lobby, box office and concession space, as well as improvements to the performing arts spaces, restrooms, dressing rooms, the theater system and other elements.
• Improved energy efficiency and the upgrade/replacement of the elementary school elevator; security improvements to the entrances and lobbies of school buildings; upgrades to the schools’ classrooms and libraries and the high school’s science labs; and the addition of a climbing wall to the middle school.
The school district has made strides with building new housing, including the construction of the 10-unit townhome project in Woody Creek funded with the $12 million in bonds voters approved in 2008. However, school officials have admitted that the $33 million in facility upgrades — which were part of the campaign for the passage of the 2005 bond proposal — didn’t come to complete fruition because of cost overrun. Those unaddressed upgrades also are part of the newest bond proposal.
The current administration, a relatively new one at that, is well removed from those who ran the district in 2005 — that includes superintendent, assistant superintendent and chief financial officer. Its efforts in the pandemic have demonstrated district leadership’s openness to community collaboration and compromise, and that follow-through is of upmost importance.
Bond advocates maintain that the district community will be consistently updated on the bond money’s allocation if 4A is approved. For sure, accountability and transparency are crucial when it comes to the spending of public dollars — and we are confident that the current administration and board realize this and will follow through. Yet we also urge residents to hold district leaders accountable by keeping the community apprised of how the bonds are spent.
If the bonds are approved, the district can issue the new $94 million in bonds without an increase to taxpayers. That’s because the bonds the district received in 2001 mature this year, and the new bonds would roll into the one with the same tax structure. Approval of the bonds also results in ASD being committed to a maximum repayment of $161.9 million, according to officials.
Voters in Aspen and Snowmass Village also will be asked to extend their respective taxes that support the ASD.
The Snowmass electorate will see Issue 2A on their ballots, which it approved in 2016 and has provided $510,000 to the ASD. With voter approval, the property tax would extend the mill levy, which sunsets at the end of 2020, through 2026. We urge Snowmass voters to vote “yes” to keep in place the mil levy.
Issue 2A is before Aspen voters and asks them to extend a 0.3% sales tax that generates $1.5 million annually for the ASD.
The Aspen Times joins the chorus of other groups and individuals who support these tax questions put before voters.
Aspen public schools, like those in the rest of Colorado, continue to face more state budget cuts. Fortunately, the ASD has been able to rely on the financial support of the Aspen Education Foundation, as well as the community at the polls.
The passage of these questions will continue to help the Aspen School District remain on solid financial footing, as well as give our children the facilities they deserve to learn in, and the much-needed housing to recruit and retain teachers.
That starts with voter support for issues 4A, 2A and 2B.
The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor/columnist Sean Beckwith.