Guest column: Support the Aspen School District
Aspen School District takes pride in its schools and is revered by school districts across the state for its commitment to the pursuit of academic excellence, its education of the whole child and its ability to provide a variety of learning experiences that allow children to maximize their potential.
The district, with parent and community support, is committed to maintaining its exemplary schools, but it will be a challenge to achieve these high standards without voters’ approval of 2A and 2D on Nov. 8.
As a result of past support of the conscientious voters of Aspen, the district has been able to backfill a portion of the state funding that was lost with the passing of the local sales tax initiative in November 2012. However, as Colorado’s economy recovers from the recession and state tax collections provide an additional surplus to the budget, the state declines to distribute any of these dollars to K-12 education. Consequently, the dollars owed to school districts across Colorado have grown to more than $830 million. These dollars, known as the “negative factor,” place school districts in a familiar situation of trying to raise local dollars to support programs, staff and services. Therefore, the Aspen School District has identified three financial measures to help secure local funding sources to maintain its exemplary schools — mill-levy override (approved in 2015), renewal of the city of Aspen sales tax and a property tax from the town of Snowmass Village (both in November). Without these dollars and a commitment from the Aspen-Snowmass community, the board of education and administration will be addressing a 2017-18 shortfall of approximately $2.5 million and an average shortfall of $2.75 million over the next five years.
When conversation began about the possibility of tax initiatives, the Aspen School District identified five critical areas where the tax dollars could supplant the dollars lost as a result of the state of Colorado not meeting its financial obligation to school districts across the state. The five critical areas are: (A) Programs, (B) Recruiting, training and retaining, (C) Technology, (D) Special education and (E) Professional development. The following is a brief summary of how the district will choose to apply the tax dollars to its operating budget pending voters’ approval.
(A) Programs — $550,000
Many of the dollars associated with this category have been targeted toward the programs that the parents and community have stated they value — College counseling, International Baccalaureate, experiential education, gifted and talented, specialists (math, reading, interventionists), robotics and coding. Programming dollars have an impact on all students in the Aspen School District.
(B) Recruiting, training and retaining — $600,000
Although the district receives a large number of applications for job openings, the district’s limited affordable-housing options and the community’s cost of living make it challenging for the district to “close the deal” with all of its top applicants.
(C) Technology — $475,000
The district has met several goals and targeted others in the area of technology. The district increased students’ access to technology by expanding the wireless options and purchased Chromebooks to create a one-to-one learning environment in grades two through seven. As the district looks forward, the technology goals include creating a more robust technological system by increasing bandwidth and redundancy; refreshing district-wide laptops; upgrading multimedia tools and equipment, and increasing professional development for staff.
(D) Special education — $510,000
The district’s special education enrollment has increased by 6.8 percent over the past five years. The increase in enrollment has been accompanied by additional unfunded mandates and more expectations being pushed down to the local level by the state and federal government. The increases in enrollment of students with disabilities and new statutes have required the district to hire additional licensed and support staff to address the various needs of students with disabilities in order to be in compliance with state and federal laws.
(E) Professional development — $75,000
The state of Colorado and the Colorado Department of Education have placed many expectations and mandates upon school districts around the state which includes creating and implementing programs and procedures to address — accountability measures, the READ Act, the Educator Effectiveness Evaluation Model, electronic standardized tests, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, Colorado Measures of Academic Success, and college admissions tests (SAT). As a result of these new state requirements coupled with the district’s expectations, professional development continues to be a necessity to maintain a well-prepared and informed teaching force.
On behalf of the Aspen School District’s board of education, administrators, teachers, staff and students, I implore you to support 2A and 2D and help the Aspen School District continue to contribute toward creating student opportunities, community vitality and economic prosperity.
John Maloy is superintendent of schools at the Aspen School District.