Glenwood Springs, other area teachers join statewide rallies
More than 30 teachers stood in front of three flagpoles on Grand Avenue at Glenwood Springs High School early Monday morning, waving cardboard signs and cheering as morning commuters drove by honking in support of their rally.
The high school teachers, almost all wearing red in solidarity with teachers across the state, were part of a much larger movement, in which teachers all over the state are protesting low pay, the “lack of funding for education in the state,” and legislation that they say makes it difficult to raise tax money for local schools.
Although Glenwood’s high school teachers kept their protest to 20 minutes, scheduling it before school hours outside of the building, other educators in the state had a much different approach.
According to The Associated Press, an entire school district cancelled its classes in lieu of protests that would be held at the state Capitol in Denver on Monday because so many of its teachers would be absent from school.
Englewood Schools Superintendent Wendy Rubin told the AP that more than 70 percent of the district’s schoolteachers had planned to be at the protests, thus, sparking the district-wide class cancellations.
“I just feel like Colorado has a lot of good going for it in the economy and that’s not really filtering down to public education,” said Rob Norville, a science teacher at Glenwood Springs High School, and representative for the local chapter of the state’s teacher’s union.
“We are at the bottom of funding for education in Colorado and I feel like our students deserve more and our teachers deserve more,” Norville added.
Autumn Rivera, a science teacher at Glenwood Springs Middle School and the school’s representative to the Roaring Fork Community Education Association, wrote in a Facebook message to the Post Independent that “Colorado is 46th in the nation for funding education and $2,700 below the national average in per pupil funding.”
She added, “This is not what is best for students. Our community has been so supportive of our school and it is now time for the state legislators to get on board.”
The teacher protests came the same day state lawmakers were discussing Senate Bill 200, a controversial ordinance that provides retirement funds and other benefits to teachers and other public employees in the state.
Teachers at Glenwood High School’s rally said they’d be waiting on any news from that hearing, as the bill could potentially make it harder for them to retire and make ends meet, depending on the outcome of the announcement.
Shaina Maytum, an English teacher at Glenwood Springs High School said she attended the rally because of the aforementioned Senate bill. But she says the main point of Monday’s rally wasn’t for teachers to complain about not making enough money, it to emphasize that students are affected by under-funding in the school system.
“The top indicator for student success is having qualified, experienced teachers,” she said. “And the way you keep teachers is by compensating them for the experience they have.”
Stephen Eaton, a 32-year-old design build [modern woodshop] teacher at Glenwood Springs High School says he’s not being compensated for his expertise so he’s looking for jobs outside of the state that would pay 25 to 30 percent more.
“At the end of the month, I’m eating lentils to keep myself in the red,” he said, adding that he’s currently homeless and is house sitting to avoid literally living on the street. He says after three years of teaching here, it’s all just become “demoralizing and tiring.”
“I feel like I’ve played by the rules. I’ve had my undergrad paid for and I went to state school and grad school, and now I’m saddled with this debt and there’s no way I can pay this off with the salary I’m making.”
Eaton spends a significant amount of his earnings on medical bills to support an illness he has and he says he’s had conversations with school administrators about not being able to live on his salary. He said they looked “saddened,” and agree it’s not financially viable to live here.
Rhonda Tatham, a special education teacher at Carbondale Middle School and president of the Roaring Fork Community Education Association said wage and benefits negotiations have concluded for the year.
In mid-March, the school board gave teachers a 1 percent pay increase, but health insurance costs are expected to go up 5 percent. So, in effect, teachers are seeing is a pay decrease.
“The district here is great and they want to do what’s best for all of us,” Tatham said. But, what it really comes down to is state funding and how that works, because without state funding, there is little funding for local schools, she said.
Teachers at several other Roaring Fork District schools also held rallies before school on Monday, including Sopris Elementary and Carbondale Middle School.
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The Glenwood Springs City Council voted to extend the existing face covering mandate for indoor public-facing spaces within city limits during Thursday night’s meeting.