Roger Marolt: Roger This
September 14, 2012
When it comes to supporting education, this community has been phenomenal. I’m not priming the pump with that statement, either. Actually, I am, but I am also completely sincere.Here’s the full disclosure: I am begging you to support the 0.3 percent sales tax increase initiative in this fall’s election that will help fund our public schools over the next four years, until the malaise from the Great Recession is tweaked into a memory. It will be great for us in three significant ways, and I’ll get to that in a minute. First off, more puffing you up.We hear a lot about cuts in state funding for education. That’s because it’s true. You see the evidence heading west down the valley past several public schools that can now afford to open just four days a week. Yet glance at our beautiful Aspen campus, and something like that appears to be as impossible as getting a side of caviar on Texas toast at the Hickory House. There’s a reason for that. So far, we have made our schools the highest community priority and are blessed with the resources to pull it off. You want some numbers? I got some numbers: Last year, this community spent $23.25 million on public education through property tax collections. That’s roughly $15,000 per student. Of this, around $9,000 went to daily operations and the other $6,000 to pay for the remarkable school infrastructure. It’s not an accident that Aspen High School was ranked by US News & World Report as the best public school in Colorado and 42nd in the country. We paid to get it there. Yet direct tax-dollar subsidies don’t nearly tell the whole story. Look at the amenities directly adjacent to the school campus. To the south, we have Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club with a ski lift practically rising out of the high school parking lot. To the west, we have the Aspen Recreation Center and Buttermilk ski area connected to the campus by pedestrian bridges that can be safely crossed by distracted kindergartners and ready-to-rip teenagers alike. To the north, we have the Moore property spiderwebbed with running, biking and cross-country ski trails. Interspersed throughout are five modern, meticulously maintained, spectacularly scenic athletic fields. Through mind-boggling generosity from the Moore family throughout the years (which made possible the ski club, rec center and eponymous open space) and continual private donations to keep the ski club going along with taxpayer funding for the rec center and athletic fields, the subsidy to our kids probably doubles what they get directly through property taxes. To this, add in-kind donations from every variety of caring local organization from Aspen Skiing Co. to the Aspen Institute, and the student subsidy slides off the right tail of the bell curve.Did I mention the value of the land our school campus sits on? No, I did not. Why? Because, as a base to stage our children’s education from, that property is, I would estimate, about priceless. How does that figure into the community subsidy of education?Seriously, we have a safe, state-of-the-art campus stewarded by extraordinary teachers and administrators, with swimming pools, an ice rink and an abundance of athletic facilities surrounding it, and it’s connected to two ski areas and a gaggle of interested parents! Where on this planet would you rather have your children going to school? Now I’ll move on to the sales tax pitch. Support it!As generous as this community has been, the tax base for funding day-to-day operations at our schools has taken a beating in the past couple of years. Since 2009, local property tax revenues for our schools have dropped $1.3 million annually. We need that to keep things running. We’ve built the Ferrari of education systems. It’s not an option to let it run out of gas now. Now for the three imperative reasons to support the sales tax increase: 1. Education is the key to a better world. Although we feel somewhat insulated here, there is strong evidence that we actually are part of the planet. 2. Great schools have a huge positive impact on the value of local real estate. Yes, people move here because of powder days and the quality of our schools. 3. The Aspen Idea. Without exceptional local schools, we pay lip service to what amounts to our bread and butter. Paying for education through a sales tax makes sense here. Tourists will help us pay for something visitors and locals alike value dearly in Aspen.
Roger Marolt is proud to live in a community where education is as highly prized as a hundred days of skiing per year. Contact him at email@example.com.
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