Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

The Aspen Education Foundation (AEF) has an image problem. Lots of people believe that it is an elitist organization run by snobs with the single-item agenda of turning Aspen High School into an East Coast prep school clone solely so that their children have a better chance of getting into Ivy League colleges. Go ahead and blast off a scorching letter to the editor over this, but leave my name out of it. I am merely reporting what I have observed. Don’t shoot the columnist … not yet.

Who could blame anyone for coming to this conclusion? Participation in funding AEF is currently limited to less than 10 percent of families with children attending Aspen public schools. That’s as pathetic as it is telling, but it is no wonder. The cornerstone event for the organization has been its highly publicized annual May Madness evening, which costs $200 per person to attend. (Oh yah, that’s going to get a whole lot of regular folks excited from the get-go.) Four C-notes for a couple of plates of banquet food and entertainment that consists of a “live” auction where everyone sits around watching half a dozen really rich people bid on super expensive items is a little steep for, oh, I’ll make a rough guess, about 90 percent of the parents in this town.

So expensive is admission to this fundraising event that most teachers aren’t expected to be able to afford tickets to it. In order to address this problem AEF, in the past, has set up a condescending program where you could actually sponsor a poor teacher to get into the dinner. As far as I know, no such program existed for others who couldn’t afford the high cost, such as carpenters, police officers, waiters, bartenders, ski instructors, bus drivers, firefighters, nurses, retail sales people, brokers of any kind, forest rangers, government employees, doctors, lawyers, accountants, concert pianists … you get the idea.

From the donor list to the board of directors, the organization became so top-heavy with big financial hitters with a narrow focus that parents with day jobs and kids who were applying to state schools and West Coast colleges lost interest. There was no apparent place in AEF for their measly donations, much less their ideas on bolstering Experimental Education programs and middle school mathematics.

For an organization that now says it wants to become a thread in the community fabric, their efforts to connect with the average parent, much less the community at large, have been a joke. I sat down with newly appointed AEF board member Andy Godfrey last week to have a laugh or two over this and told him everything that I just told you. And do you know what he told me?

He said, “I know.”

These words were like a fresh, cool breeze blowing thought my vent. It is what I have been waiting to hear from AEF for the entire decade of its existence. It means that things are changing.

So, what do I think we ought to do about this? I think each and every one of us should pull out our checkbooks this minute and write AEF a check. Send a dollar. $10 is great. If you can afford $100, that’s fine. Got an extra thousand or so? Bring it on. The amount doesn’t matter so much. It’s your participation that does!

Why? Because we need an organization to support our schools, and AEF has laid the groundwork for what can become an incredible, broad-based community organization for this purpose. Although our schools are woefully under-funded financially by national standards (Colorado ranks 47th out of 50 states based on per capita income), they have never been short on parent participation. I know. I see you in the classrooms. I hike with you on field trips. I work with you at athletic events. I know you care. There has never been any doubt about that.

What we lack, besides a state government committed to education, is a cohesive, concentrated and well-organized body that can bring us together to support our schools. I believe that the current leadership of AEF recognizes the incredible personal investment in education that is abundant here and that improving education is not just about the money. The truth is that raising money and combining it with human capital can bring about results exponentially greater than can be achieved with either element applied on its own. AEF is the vehicle with the greatest potential to bring it all together for us. It is time to support our AEF.

I’m not just talking about parents, either. Every person who loves this valley, loves our children and has hope for the future should send AEF a check. Our children, even more than an Aspen Skiing Co. national marketing campaign about global warming, project our values and ideals to the rest of the world when they inevitably spread out and become a part of it. An incredible educational experience in our extraordinarily unique setting of nature and culture is worth backing. We have to support ways that our kids can get more than an average education in such an exceptional place. To do anything less is something we can only be ashamed of in the future.

Send whatever you can. Truly. If you can’t afford cash, send a note signaling that you are on board in this very important mission and then figure out another way to participate. Every person who lives in this town should be on AEF’s list of supporters. No amount of money or time is too small to contribute.

If you believe in this mission, if you believe that every single person in this town can make a difference in our small school district, if you believe that together we are far more powerful than we are as individuals, then it is time to become a part of a group that could be and should be the largest charitable organization in town. All other worthwhile causes depend on good education as a foundation for their solutions.

Don’t set this aside. Participate now! AEF’s address is: PO Box 2200, Aspen, CO 81612. Send a check. Then, send an e-mail to half a dozen friends telling them what you did and why. Spread the word and spread it quickly. Let’s get this going, now!


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