Roger Marolt: Roger This |

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

My apologies to Winston Churchill: Forming a nonprofit organization to raise supplemental income for a cash-strapped public school system is the worst way to help the schools, except for all the others. Ask anyone involved with Aspen Education Foundation (AEF).

The biggest knock on AEF is that its overhead costs are high. In the latest reported year, it cost them about $230,000 to produce about $505,000 of revenue. That sounds pretty crappy; for every dollar you gave, only 55 cents ended up helping our schools.

Yeah, it sounds pretty crappy, all right. And, if you had any inclination not to support AEF I am sure this provides a ready-made excuse; not only for this year, but going back a few, too.

I’ve had my own doubts about AEF. I remember when they started back in the years when it seemed like honey was flowing out of the Roaring Fork River and milk was coming out of Castle Creek. Recessions were only in history books and instead of sweating over school budget cuts we casually talked about wish lists. Back in those days I pictured a group of rich AEF ladies having lunch at The Little Nell deciding how they could get Buffy and Biff accepted at Oxford or how to fit everybody’s name on the organization’s letterhead. I know it was not like that at all … er, very much, but if you put it back into context you see that it could have been a common misconception.

Think of it: Our kids were getting a great education, we just finished building a fabulous high school, were breaking ground on a state-of-the art middle school, and lacrosse, the yuppiest of yuppy prep school sports was taking the town by storm. Anything else we could do for the schools was gravy, or icing, take your pick.

Yes, we still have the great education, the fabulous high school, the state-of-the-art middle school, and an incredible lacrosse program, but just try to get any of these things going from the ground up now and you will see how things have changed.

So what, you say. We were lucky enough to get the cake frosted before the butter went rancid. True. But, none of the stuff we did then is getting any better now except the lacrosse teams. And, even that may quit leavening if our educational monetary situation doesn’t improve.

The problem is not that our schools are going to molder overnight. The problem is that without additional funding our schools are in danger of stagnating. I looked “stagnating” up in the dictionary and the definition is: “The state of slowly dying, marked by the lack of new programs, activities, and sports being initiated into an educational system resulting in students, parents, teachers, and college recruiters losing interest in the school until it becomes so irrelevant that nobody can stand to be part of it.” OK, I did not look that up. I made it up. … I mean, I made up the words, not the result of lack of extra fiscal stimulus into our school system. Without extra funding for our schools, the whole shebang becomes ordinary. There. I said it. The cardinal Aspenological sin: being ordinary.

You see, if we leave it up to the state to dole out funding for our school amidst the darkest economic times in our state since the Quiet Years, which everyone who didn’t live through them used to believe were so wonderful but which is quite beside the point now, then all schools will be treated the same. The good news about this is that you will no longer be required to shell out the big bucks to buy a house “in-district” to get your kids into our awesome schools. You can move to Keokuk, Iowa, and get the same education there, and a lot more house to boot.

And yes, I am off track. Many of you are begging me to get back to the idea of AEF being a hoity-toity club for rich ladies who like to plan big parties for the town’s showoffs to really show off at. And then you want me to start ripping. Don’t lie. I know your literary preferences.

But I am not going there this time. Things have changed. AEF is not a luxury. Since nobody can figure out a better way to raise money for our budget-brutalized school system, it has become a necessity.

We need a new way to look at AEF. Instead of a wasteful organization with high overhead, we need to think of it as an operation with everything in place and the potential to do incredible things. AEF is not wasteful. It takes a certain amount of money to keep the doors open and the thing running. The vast majority of those costs are fixed and won’t increase if it raises more money. The reason that the ratio of expenses to revenue is so out of whack now is not because AEF spends too much. It’s because we don’t give enough!

Yeah I know: Whoever thought that we could make AEF more efficient by us giving more rather than them spending less. But, we don’t have time to dwell on that numerical magic. Things are so desperate that AEF has moved its annual May Madness fundraiser to April. In fact, it’s tomorrow night! And, they’ve even changed the name to Flamingo-a-go-go, which has no obvious significance whatsoever!! But that’s not important.

What is important is to continue the discussion tomorrow evening at the Doerr-Hosier Center at Aspen Meadows at 6 p.m. The more, the merrier. The louder, the better. Have a drink or two. Dance! Nobody says we can’t have some fun figuring this out.