Diana Sirko: Guest Opinion | AspenTimes.com

Diana Sirko: Guest Opinion

Diana Sirko
Aspen CO, Colorado

In recent articles it has been mentioned that people would like more specific information regarding the Aspen School District ballot issues. Although the Aspen School District was reluctant to add to the number of ballot initiatives this November, we have three very important needs that we did not feel we could wait until next November to address (Colorado statute only allows school district questions to be on the fall ballot, and not the spring ballot). These important needs are addressed in ballot initiatives 3A and 3B.

The first, 3A, is a special three-year Underwood mill levy that would enable the school district to raise $4.5 million for transportation and technology. The state specifically created the Underwood levy because it recognized that, with the increasing and volatile costs associated with both transportation and technology, districts were struggling to cover these expenses out of regular operating funds. Although only collected over the next three years, we believe we can stretch the funds over many more years, as we did with a previous technology levy in the 1990s.

We have developed a six-year plan that would enable us to replace all buses purchased from 1985-1998, which is 15 out of our 19 buses, seven of which were purchased from 1985-1990. For many of our buses, particularly those from the ’80s, it has become increasingly difficult to get replacement parts and keep them running. By using $333,000 each year for the next six years from the mill levy to cover

approximately half of our annual $650,000 operating costs in transportation, we can use general funds to replace the majority of our vehicles and bus fleet. Our aggressive preventative-maintenance program assists us with getting 15 or more years out of each 60-passenger bus. While we have been wise with this resource, it is time to replace these vehicles, at a cost of about $100,000 per bus.

The remaining $2.6 million will be used to replace and update our technology infrastructure, specifically servers and network components, and repair and replace computers for classroom use over the next six years. If we want students to have 21st century skills, we must give them concrete experience with updated technology integrated into their classrooms on a daily basis.

Our second ballot issue, 3B, is designed to address the school district’s needs for staff housing. If successful, the $12 million raised through the bond will be used for three purposes: ideally, build an additional six duplexes at our West Ranch property; add improvements such as carports and a paved driveway to the existing property; and, purchase an additional 10 to 12 units from within the valley. This would increase our rental properties from 22 units to 44-46 units. While we probably would not be able to purchase anything in Aspen, our staff bus makes stops in Carbondale and other Highway 82 locations daily, making it economically feasible to live downvalley and work in the Aspen School District.

The school district, which has more than 200 employees, must increase their rental offerings to reduce staff turnover. These permanent rentals will allow the school district to continue to retain and recruit high quality staff, which is the most critical element in providing a successful education for our students. Our studies, surveys and long-range planning efforts over the last year have shown us that our housing needs are now different from what they were when reasonably priced housing was available downvalley. We have changed from needing to provide transitional housing to recent hires to needing more long-term housing options for staff.

In addition, our surveys demonstrate that more than 45 percent of our staff who currently own housing will probably be retiring in the next five years, and we have found it increasingly difficult to hire new teachers if we cannot also give them assistance with housing. We currently have policies in place regarding the allocation of our existing units, and we are in the process of reviewing and updating them to address our changed circumstances.

We know there are many needs competing for our community dollars. We hope people will look carefully at these issues. In our case, the total cost for the first three years is $6.40 per year for each $100,000 of market value, and $1.60 each year for the 17 years after that. We believe this represents a responsible investment in high quality teachers and staff, the safety of students, and the effective teaching of 21st century skills.

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