Roaring Fork teachers take pay concerns to school board
As some Colorado teachers are walking out this week over pay and education funding in general, local teachers are opting for a more collaborative approach.
Several teachers are expected to address the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education tonight with their concerns. Among their requests will be for the board to sign a resolution supporting state legislative action to increase funding and salaries at the state level.
The Roaring Fork Community Education Association, which represents teachers in the district that stretches from Glenwood Springs to Basalt, is also planning a “Rally for Education” at 5:15 p.m. Thursday on the lawn next to the district offices in Glenwood Springs.
Some district teachers staged a “walk-in” the morning of April 16 before school, waving signs in front of district schools as students were arriving to call attention to the issue, before heading to their classrooms to teach for the day.
“We felt that having an event where the whole community could participate would be the best way for the community to show support and get more information about school funding and why it is so important for the state funding for education to be fixed,” said Rhonda Tatham, president of the local chapter of the state Education Association and a teacher at Carbondale Middle School.
“It is not just about teacher pay, although staff should not have to work two and three jobs just to make ends meet,” she said.
Ultimately, “It is about the students … the services students need, from busing to mental health to food service, and making sure the students have the best so that they can continue to grow and learn and thrive,” Tatham said.
If any local teachers are planning to participate in the protest at the state Capitol in Denver on Friday, they are taking personal days to do so, she added.
Should it be approved, the resolution that’s before the Roaring Fork school board tonight acknowledges the “chronic underfunding” of public school education in Colorado.
It states, in part: “The Roaring Fork School District Board of Education is a witness to the consequences of this chronic underfunding and sees the victims in our students, teachers, staff, families, community and state …
“Our schools are currently underfunded by $830 million; and no one has worked harder nor waited longer for resources in the classroom nor sacrificed more than our whole staff, teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, administration; and,
“… On behalf of our students and families, we cannot allow this crisis to continue through another legislative session, [and] we support all measures taken by our excellent teachers to demand the necessary funding for a high quality education.”
Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein, who addressed the issue in his monthly column earlier this week, said it’s just one way the district could take a position in support of providing a living wage for teachers.
On the state level, a bill currently before the Colorado Senate would increase funding into the state’s PERA retirement fund, which benefits public school teachers. There’s also a move to place a question on the fall ballot that would ask voters to approve a major education funding increase in the state.
Locally, Stein said the school board may want to consider whether to float another mill levy override question sometime in the near future. That could provide another $2 million to $3 million within the school district to address teacher and staff pay.
However, given that voters just did approve a $122 million bond issue for new school buildings, teacher housing and other facilities three years ago, it’s likely too soon to go back to local voters with another tax question, he said.
“What I appreciate about our local teachers and their approach to this is that they are working hard to keep this collaborative, in a way that supports the needs of families and teachers and that doesn’t pit us against them,” Stein said.
“They want their voices be heard, and we want them to be heard,” he said.
Tonight’s school board meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. and is being held at Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs.
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Current Basalt officials say the town government has violated the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Right by increasing the property tax mill levy over the prior years 10 times since the mid-2000s. Two former mayors contend the mill levy could be adjusted in any given year as long as it didn’t exceed the mill levy in 1994. It’s a $2 million question.