As the 2022-23 school year approaches for the Aspen School District, the organization is moving quickly to house more teachers before classes begin.
A new proposal comes from developer Mark Hunt, who owns an open market building called Aspen Edge Condos at 1235 E. Cooper Ave.
He wants to sell or lease eight units in the building to the district and have them restricted by deed, which is essentially rent controlled or a capped sale price.
The district and Hunt have approached city officials about the idea, according to community development director Phillip Supino in a note on the Aspen City Council.
The board will consider the proposal on Tuesday and, if approved, it will facilitate the placement of school district staff in Cooper Avenue units before the start of the school year.
The formal request is for a change of use at another building Hunt owns at 516 E. Hyman Ave., where he wants to transfer an existing deed restriction from a 400 square foot studio to a two-bedroom unit at the ‘Aspen Edge. building.
This would create additional units for the working-class community and generate affordable housing credits for Hunt, as well as the conversion of 400 square feet from restricted-deed residential to commercial in his Hyman Avenue building.
The Affordable Housing Credit Certificate Program allows a developer to build affordable housing and earn credit for each unit brought online. This credit can then be sold to another developer who uses it to meet employee mitigation requirements on a separate project.
City staff support the proposal because it creates seven new restricted-act units, or 14 rooms, in exchange for moving and expanding an existing restricted-act unit, according to Supino’s memo.
The school district acquired eight units on Waters Avenue earlier this year and showed the new apartments earlier this week. Three people have already moved in.
The district released a news release on Friday touting its efforts so far and explaining its extraordinary hiring challenges due to teacher shortages and a lack of affordable housing.
As part of the district’s hiring and retention strategy, affordable housing options for employees have expanded, representing a 42% increase in supply from a year ago, according to the communicated.
Earlier this year, the district and the Aspen Education Association agreed to a new pay scale with significant increases in the pay scale, since the average starting salary for a teacher is $50,000.
The new compensation structure coupled with the newly acquired housing stock has brought the district close to meeting its recruiting goals for the upcoming school year, according to the release.
The district hired 35 new staff members, including 26 certified teachers and special service providers arriving from the state, around the country, the Philippines and Japan.
Nine new hires were also made for educational support staff positions, such as paraprofessionals, food service and transportation.
These are mainly local hires with two new members from Australia and Scotland. In addition to the 35 new employees, seven certified positions have been filled internally through transfers of existing staff, according to district officials.
Recruitment is underway for some additional support staff positions and progress is being made weekly to fill the remaining vacancies.
“It is an understatement to say that these are unprecedented times in the world of education,” said Dr. David Baugh, Superintendent of Schools, in the press release. “We knew we had to think and act outside the box to identify and hire high caliber teachers and staff to join our valuable existing team.
“Great credit goes to our community partners who recognized our pressing needs and enabled us to provide attractive new housing options,” he continued. “We are very grateful that they have stepped up to provide us with affordable properties, some even turnkey, in prime locations.”
The addition of 14 rooms to the Aspen Edge building will ensure the last units needed to open schools this year, district officials say.
Another major priority in preparing for the new school year is upgrading campus buildings, pathways and systems, including enhanced safety and security protocols and features.
Interior and exterior construction has been underway all summer and while most work is nearing completion, there will be ongoing projects due to extended delivery dates and employment issues, according to the press release. . Financing improvements, including energy upgrades and sustainability initiatives, were already in place through the voter-approved bond measure passed in 2020.
“Our board has tasked Dave Baugh and the administrative team to aggressively recruit and hire top talent for our schools,” Katy Frisch, district school board chair, said in a statement. “Never before has there been so much difficulty hiring teachers and staff. Our commitment to raising wages and providing new affordable housing options has allowed us to achieve our goals to better serve our children and the community.