Down payment housing assistance could help Roaring Fork Schools retain district leaders

Members of the community get a tour of the teacher housing apartments in Carbondale in this August 2018 file photo.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent file

The Roaring Fork School District is taking another step toward helping employees get into housing, this one aimed at recruiting and retaining key school- and district-level leaders.

The district has invested a significant amount of money into securing teacher and staff housing units from Glenwood Springs to Basalt using dedicated funds from a 2015 bond issue approved by voters.

That has resulted in more than 80 units spread across the district; mostly rentals but some available for purchase in the case of the 14 Habitat for Humanity Basalt Vista project units, Roaring Fork Board of Education Carbondale Director Kenny Teitler noted during a school board presentation Wednesday night.

Another 50 housing units are now being planned for school district property in Carbondale near Roaring Fork High School.

That’s gone a long way to help teachers and other district staff who qualify to get a foothold, Teitler and other school board members acknowledged. 

But many upper-level administrative and support staff members who don’t qualify for the rent-controlled units also struggle to get into housing in the Roaring Fork Valley’s tight market, they said.

“It’s important that we do the same for our administration so that we are able to retain key district staff and leaders, and help them put down roots,” Teitler said.

The cost of housing became an issue in the school board’s search for a new superintendent last year, and has continued to be an issue in hiring and retaining other leadership positions in the district, Board President Kathryn Kuhlenberg said.  

The housing crisis doesn’t just impact one level of employee, she said.

“For the health of the district long term, it’s important that we are looking at multiple options,” Kuhlenberg said.

Other school districts in the state provide a housing stipend to the superintendents and other top-level administrators. And, for teachers who used to be able to “graduate” out of rent-controlled units into free-market homes, that has become more difficult in more recent years, she said. 

A down-payment assistance model, where the district would create a self-sustaining program to support home ownership, seems to be the best option for the Roaring Fork Schools, Kuhlenberg said.

The proposal does state that the district would “explore similar options for teachers and staff,” but at least one written comment provided by a local school staff member to the board on Wednesday questioned why teachers wouldn’t come first.

“It should be priority number one to retain and recruit exceptional teachers,” that person wrote. “I am concerned that we are losing sight of who it is most important to attract and retain in our valley.” 

Teitler said a down payment assistance program would cost about “one-20th” what the district has spent on building and obtaining teacher/staff housing units. The 2015 bond issue dedicated $15 million for staff housing. 

Kuhlenberg said it’s commonplace for school districts with high housing costs to have separate programs aimed at assisting different levels of employees.

“I don’t want the public to think this is some off-the-wall notion,” she said. “It’s something that is being done by a lot of organizations.

“It’s also a way of recognizing that it can have major consequences if we’re not planning and preparing for this,” Kuhlenberg said of staff turnover impacts.

Added board Director Jasmin Ramirez, “This is something that’s incredibly important for our district, and it was a huge red flag for us during the superintendent search … our team cannot continue to be pushed farther down valley, and this can help create a pipeline for home ownership in our valley.” 

Superintendent Jesús Rodríguez said he would begin working with Chief of Finance Nathan Markham and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Gatlin to begin developing the down payment assistance program.

Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at or at 970-384-9160.

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