Meredith Carroll: A vote for 3A isn’t just academic |

Meredith Carroll: A vote for 3A isn’t just academic

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

“What kind of Aspen do you want? Do you want a town with charm and character where you’re always happy to return? Think about the sense of community in Aspen compared with the lack of community in other ski towns.”

That was the propaganda printed on a postcard mailed to Aspen residents last week from a group trying to quash the development of the Base2 Lodge on the corner of Main and Monarch streets. Yet not everyone imagining how to achieve the ideal Aspen believes a 37-room hotel is the obstacle. Some recognize an issue of much greater consequence is the grave possibility of a seven-figure blow to the Aspen School District’s budget.

Also, those more interested in quality education than high-occupancy turnover beds are already clever enough to see through the language of the pro-Base2 campaign, which says “the market will help determine the value” of its “really small!” rooms. Clearly, Base2 chief Mark Hunt has forgotten that Aspen residents famously prove time and again they’re more than willing to pay through the nose for location over size. Tourists in Aspen — and places such as Manhattan’s Times Square, where visitors will pay $400 to $500 a night for two-star hotel rooms this holiday season — frequently demonstrate a similar proclivity.

Affordable hotels are lovely, but articulating the difference between a welcoming community and a more inhospitable one goes much deeper than acknowledging the spending limits of some high-season guests. What lends Aspen its charm — in addition to its natural beauty and the lack of an interstate running through town — is the people. And the people are only as happy as their kids, friends and neighbors.

It’s adorable to believe good schools just happen to good people in pretty towns. But in real life, it’s naive to think they happen without the benefit of a well-funded budget supported by the community. A rising tide raises all ships — superior schools attract people (with and without children) who also care about real estate values, ample recreational and cultural opportunities, thoughtful amenities and an abundance of services. People content with their homes and hometown pass on their joy and gratitude through osmosis to the visitors they’re next to while dining, shopping, skiing and riding.

If ballot question 3A fails in November, the Aspen School District will be forced to chop nearly $1 million in programs and staff positions from its 2016-17 budget (plus another $3 million by 2020). The trickle-down effect of that glaring hole will undoubtedly be written on the face of each person affected.

Fortunately, if the school mill-levy override passes, it won’t be an added expense for residents, who’ve already been paying for it since the Colorado Legislature cut nearly $4 billion from state schools over the past few years. However, the amount spent per Aspen household is so minute most people don’t even realize they’re been contributing all this time: For those with homes valued at $100,000, their portion comes out to just $3 a year, which is the equivalent of 1.85 McDonald’s cheeseburgers (or 16 percent of the price of an Ajax Tavern cheeseburger). For a million-dollar home, it’s the cost of the combination sashimi dinner at Matsuhisa — miso soup and rice included. Thinking about what you get for that price — the highest-quality schools, not the miso soup — question 3A is a no-brainer.

Well-funded schools, exceptional program offerings, small class sizes, a tremendously invested and highly qualified faculty, a closely watched and followed capital-maintenance schedule and conveniences as far as the eye can see (literally; we’re looking at you, chairlift in the high school’s backyard) seem to be taken for granted in Aspen. For a how-to on Aspen bragging rights, though, if the conversation can’t start with the schools, be assured it will end there.

It’s not an either-or situation on the ballot, but those for and against Base2 have managed to make their voices drown out the local teachers who’ve been spending their free time quietly volunteering to knock on doors of residents to school them on what will be lost if 3A fails. The squeaky wheel may get grease, but it’s been hard to hear it over the roar of the Base2 shouting match.

A community worth boasting about isn’t born from shorter lift lines and (an abundance or lack of) affordable hotels; it comes from the residents who feel cared for and heard. Despite the incessant Chicken Little cries, one more lodge isn’t going to make or break Aspen. Additional money siphoned out of the Aspen School District’s budget, though, might just succeed in doing the latter.

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