As the superintendent of schools for the Aspen School District, I am very proud of the efforts of the district’s administrators, teachers and staff. During the past four years, the Aspen School District reduced its overall budget by more than $2 million, while all the Aspen schools earned state-wide recognition for exceeding expectations on academic achievement indicators and academic growth gaps (John Irwin School of Excellence, CDE).
Recently, Aspen High School was rated the No. 1 high school in Colorado by US News & World Report, an honor that reflects the hard work and commitment made by administrators, teachers and staff in all of our schools. Additionally, the district was “accredited with distinction,” the highest level a district can achieve from the Colorado Department of Education.
The Aspen School District consistently performs at very high levels and delivers outstanding results, despite increased federal and state expectations and decreased funding to support the added expectations.
One might argue that the schools are doing just fine with fewer resources. Although the schools and their staffs have done very well in the short term, outstanding student outcomes will be difficult to sustain with added federal and state expectations and further budget reductions leading to less resources, and fewer quality teachers and staff in place to support the many successful programs that students and parents have come to expect and appreciate. The district, with parent and community support, is committed to maintaining its exemplary schools. However, appropriate funding levels are essential to our success.
It is projected that the proposed sales tax of 0.3 percent will raise approximately $1.75 million. This equates to 30 cents per $100 in purchases. If approved, the sales tax will begin to be collected by the city of Aspen in 2013 and sunset at the end of 2016.
The district identified the following areas of need for the proposed sales tax revenues:
• Budget shortfall — approximately $900,000 annually. Since 2008-09, the state of Colorado has failed to meets its requirement in providing state equalization funds to all school districts. Consequently, the total state equalization dollars Aspen School District has not received over the last five years equals $5.15 million. This has led the district to make more than $2 million in cuts and the board of education to dip into its reserves. Assuming there are no increases in expenses and no additional revenues, the projected shortfalls for the next three years will total approximately $2.5 million.
• Technology — approximately $300,000 annually. The voters approved a transportation/technology mill levy in 2007 in the amount of $1.5 million that was collected over a three-year period, but the dollars were allocated over a five-year period. Instead of asking voters to renew a portion of this levy for technology, the district plans to utilize dollars from the proposed sales tax to allocate $300,000 per year to cover the anticipated costs of advancing innovative and effective uses of the district’s technology.
• Highly qualified staff — approximately $250,000 annually. These dollars will assist the district with the expenses in recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining highly qualified teachers and staff to sustain exemplary schools.
• Valued programs — approximately $150,000 annually. These dollars will assist the district in maintaining programs that parents and students have come to expect, such as gifted and talented (Ascent), robotics, engineering, outdoor education, experiential education, college counseling, and international baccalaureate. These are the types of programs that separate the Aspen School District from many other school districts.
• Special education and support services — approximately $100,000 annually. These dollars will provide support to many programs that are mandated and unfunded. The district has experienced an 18 percent increase in the number of students qualifying for special services and support over the last five years.
• Professional development — approximately $50,000 annually. The district has reduced all professional development budgets by 16 percent annually for the past four years. With state reform initiatives underway (educator effectiveness, revised academic and common core standards, revised state assessments, revised accountability and performance frameworks), teachers and staff will require increased training and education.
With approximately 85 percent of the Aspen School District’s annual budget ascribed to personnel, as is true with most school districts across Colorado, another year of budget reductions will impact teachers, staff and valued programs and services, and will result in a direct impact on the classroom, including increased class sizes. Therefore, the district is asking the community and its voters to continue their support of the community’s outstanding schools by voting “yes” on issue 2B and approving the authority to levy a 0.3 percent sales tax for educational purposes. An investment in our schools and our children is an investment in the future of the community.
Support the Aspen School District and it schools by voting “yes” on issue 2B.
Dr. John Maloy is the superintendent of schools for the Aspen School District.