Aspen schools officials, parents brainstorm on spending cuts |

Aspen schools officials, parents brainstorm on spending cuts

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Aspen School District administrators have come up with cuts of $600,000 to $1.2 million in school spending for the 2010-11 year. On Wednesday, about a dozen parents and staffers came up with a few more ideas to help close the budget gap created by an anticipated state-ordered reduction.

The Aspen district doesn’t yet know how much it will have to cut, or if it will have to cut anything, as it is one of a handful of the state’s 178 school districts that raises virtually all of its funding through local property taxes.

Colorado is looking to cut $260 million in school spending. But in Aspen’s case, the budget reduction won’t save the state any money to speak of, because the local district receives virtually nothing in state funding. Local property values are sufficient to fund most of the district’s budget, which totals $16.8 million this year.

Still, the district may be forced to reduce its spending – not collect the tax revenues in the first place – in order to share the pain suffered by other districts that rely more heavily on state funding.

“It’s not going to help anyone. It’s just a cut for a cut’s sake,” said Superintendent Dr. Diana Sirko on Wednesday, during the first of two meetings the district will convene to explain the situation to the community. The second session will be April 7 from 8:30-10:30 a.m. in the board of education room at the high school.

A first tier of planned cuts, totaling close to $900,000, won’t impact students much. The district can allocate funds from a transportation and technology mill levy approved by voters in 2008, and use other unallocated funds and capital reserves to help make up the shortfall in the short term, according to Sirko. In addition, the equivalent of one full-time staff person would be cut, but lower enrollment in the affected program will allow remaining staff to handle the load, she said.

Three staff furlough days are also contemplated, saving about $200,000. One of the days will shut down school for students. The furloughs amount to a salary freeze, according to Sirko, since staff pay hikes that come with advancement on the salary schedule would remain intact.

Parents and staffers at Wednesday’s meeting brainstormed on other cuts and sources of revenue. Eliminating paid sabbaticals, already identified in a second tier of cuts by the administration, got the nod from some in the group. A four-day school week, raising athletic fees, raising student parking fees and charging for transportation all got a mention. So did sponsorship opportunities – an idea administrators already had on their radar. Paid banner placement in athletic facilities are being considered, Sirko told the group.

Among the “untouchables” for some parents were class-size limits, the district’s outdoor/experiential education program, the arts, and the International Baccalaureate program, which allows students to essentially complete freshman-level college courses while they’re still in high school.

The district will likely have to suspend courses and athletic programs that don’t have enough student participation to justify offering them, Sirko warned. Girls softball is a program that may be suspended for a year or two, she predicted. Having students pay their hotel costs when they travel for athletics has also been discussed.

The district has been told to anticipate three or four years of budget cuts that could total 20 percent overall, according to Sirko. Reductions next year may not have huge impacts on student programs, but that probably won’t be the case in the following years, she warned.

There is room within state-imposed limits to ask voters for another mill levy override to collect additional local tax dollars, Sirko noted.

“I think what should be in our future is maybe a mill levy election – maybe in fall 2011,” she said.

Sirko won’t be involved in that discussion, though. She will step down at the end of the current school year to take a position with the state Department of Education.

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