Marolt: Creative thinking needed to save our schools | AspenTimes.com

Marolt: Creative thinking needed to save our schools

Roger Marolt
Roger This

Forget about selling pot. It hasn't been all it was cracked up to be in raising taxes to aid our schools. It doesn't look like it's ever going to be, either. And if there's no hope in drug dealing to help our kids, there's probably not much use in putting a lot of faith in more legalized gambling, either. What's next? Prostitution? Do it for the kids, right? It seems like if you raise the sin taxes to the point where they could help school funding in any significant way, the price of the sin gets so high that folks go back and do their sinning on the black market.

That's a heck of a way to start a discussion on school funding, but it's what you get down to when the state budget for education is tighter than spandex in a Danish yoga studio. There's a state law that prevents wealthy school districts such as Aspen from raising money from local property taxes to fund their own schools. It says we can issue bonds for buildings and capital improvements but not for programs and teachers. But we already have good infrastructure; we need money to keep good programs and teachers. So, we are stuck with the regular state formula for inadequate funding for all school districts.

The thing that got me all fired up this week was a presentation of all the cool things our school does for our kids. I am on the board of the Aspen Education Foundation, and our local educators came in to talk about what they produce for our progeny. It's everything from outstanding music and drama to cutting-edge aeronautics and robotics with singularly unique outdoor education, special-needs support and college counseling between. I know it's not polite to compare ourselves to others, but that's impossible when you realize how incredible our schools are. We care about a lot of important stuff in this town, and it's nice to see education is at the top of the list.

A quick plug for the Aspen Education Foundation: It is a great organization worthy of your financial support that helps fill the financial gaps to keep our schools great. We can't rest on that effort alone, though. We also have a city sales tax that helps a bunch, but it is set to expire in 2016. It would be great to renew that. Even still, the amounts raised by these two methods are annually uncertain. Wouldn't it be great to figure out a permanent fix for funding our schools into the future? It's time to brainstorm.

OK, we've established two things thus far: First, our schools are desperate for additional funding to remain great. Second, there is no idea too dumb to consider that might raise money for education.

With this in mind, here's an idea that is going to sound absolutely nuts. It might prove impossible, but give it a moment to sink in and see where it settles. Ready? If state law says we can only raise local money for our schools if we use it to pay for buildings, then we should do it. That's right — let's pass a bond initiative and get a new school building!

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"We don't need another building, though," you say. But yes, we do! We need a new school building that makes money!

The Aspen School District should issue a bond to buy the Aspen Recreation Center from the city of Aspen! It should then turn around and lease the facility back to the city of Aspen. It actually makes sense!

Let's say the rec center is worth, I don't know, $30 million for discussion's sake. That price would likely net the city a decent profit on its investment. A reasonable rent for the facility might be around $2 million a year with the city also obliged to cover operating costs. The school district, as landlord, could collect that rent and use it for things like teacher salaries and program funding.

Basically, the city breaks even on the deal in the long run while the school district successfully issues bonds to cover its day-to-day program costs over the long haul. Logistically it makes sense, too. If the day comes when our schools need to expand, they will own the land directly adjacent to the current campus to expand onto. It's actually a very responsible thing to do for our kids. And all without smoke, mirrors or red lights.

Obviously this idea didn't originate in Roger Marolt's gray-matter mush. He's only taking credit to protect the innocent, who had no idea he would write about it. Contact him at roger@maroltllp.com.