Ramberg: The win-win for schools, arts

Attracting and retaining the very best faculty and staff at Aspen School District is one of the biggest challenges our community faces, especially given the rising cost of living in the valley. Providing competitive salaries and housing is a big part of the equation.

Fortunately, there’s a no-cost solution available.

Under the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), 0.5% of every real estate sale in Aspen goes to fund the Wheeler Opera House. As of last fall, the Wheeler fund stood at over $40 million and is growing by more than $10 million annually (Collections from the RETT in 2020 were $17.6 million).

The fund’s endowment far exceeds the $30 million needed to ensure the Wheeler’s ability to serve the arts community in perpetuity, and the annual collections from the tax surpass the approximate $4 million subsidy needed to cover the theater’s yearly operating deficit.

Wisely, last November, voters overwhelmingly approved measure 2E, which allows for the RETT to be repurposed for local arts and culture programs beyond the Wheeler.

So, why not allocate a few million dollars of the excess RETT proceeds each year to pay for the arts programs at ASD, as well as cover the school’s cost to operate and renovate the District Theatre (which is enjoyed by the larger community)?

This proposal meets two important goals. First, it stays true to the RETT’s objective of funding community arts. And, secondly, the millions of dollars that the school district currently spends on its arts programs, and District Theatre could be re-allocated to provide raises and/or housing stipends for our educators and staff, helping our schools employ the best personnel possible.

Now, that’s a win-win!

Ken Ramberg