Teacher retention dominates Re-2 school board forum
Retaining teachers in the Garfield School District Re-2 is among the critical issues the four candidates for the board of education said they hope to address, during a candidate forum Tuesday evening.
The event, hosted by the Western Garfield Education Association, featured questions on a range of issues from standardized testing to the budgetary concerns stemming from Colorado’s conflicting formula for funding education. While answers varied slightly at times, all four noted that the high turnover rate among the district’s educators is a continual challenge for the district, which spans from Rifle to New Castle.
“I do believe that we’ve got quality people in our district,” said Jay Rickstrew, who is running in District B encompassing east Rifle and the unincorporated area between Rifle and Silt, currently represented by Patrick Burwell. “Our challenges are how do we keep those quality people and when they leave how do we attract new quality people to our communities, and I wish I had an answer for that right now. I think about it a lot.”
Rickstrew, a regional president at Alpine Bank who served on the board from 2003-2011, including six years as board president, is running unopposed for his seat, as is Jacquelyn Johnson — a mother of three who works part time for the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. Johnson will take over District C, which includes south Rifle and is currently represented by Chris Pearson, who is being term-limited after eight years on the board.
The only contested race is for the Re-2 District D seat, currently held by Scott Doherty. Tara Rumery and Meriya Stickler are vying for that position, which encompasses Silt and areas of unincorporated Garfield County to the south and to the east.
Rumery went through Re-2 as a student at a time when turnover among teachers did not seem to be an issue.
“I remember when I was in school the same teachers taught there for years and they had really good communications with each other and with students,” she said.
Although she does not have a child in the district at the moment, her son will enter kindergarten next year, and she, like Stickler and Johnson, has a vested interest in the district as a parent.
Stickler, who worked in the banking sector for 13 years before becoming a stay-at-home mother, has two children in the district and echoed her fellow candidates’ sentiments surrounding the quality people in the district and challenges keeping those people.
“I’m not really sure exactly what all factors into that,” she said of the turnover rate. “I know that the cost of living is one. … It’s hard to make it on a teacher’s salary, but I’d really like to see some focus put into the hiring process. Let’s see how we’re bringing people in and how we can get them to stay and maybe that means we need to concentrate on who we’re bringing in in the first place because it is hard. It’s hard for the teachers to rebuild, it’s hard for the kids to rebuild, and it’s very expensive for the district to have this high a turnover.”
Johnson, who also grew up going to school in Re-2, expressed a desire to form a strong bond in the greater community with the hope of keeping more educators for longer periods of time.
“We love it here and I want to make everybody else love it here too,” she said, “and I hope that as a board and as a community we can find a way to make them just want to stay and teach and make connections.”
Retaining teachers has been a long running issue — one cited in previous forums from elections past, and one that is not unique to Re-2. Roaring Fork School District also struggles with turnover, with the high cost of living often cited as the driving force.
Pay is an issue, and one that is heavily restricted by the district’s budget, Rickstrew said, adding that the district might have to build on current successes to form a culture that makes Re-2 an attractive district for teachers, beyond compensation.
Kris Coombs, a Rifle resident with children at the Rifle Middle School, said she was impressed with the candidates and was encouraged by the attention the candidates allocated to the district’s turnover rate.
The candidates also were asked about other topics including communication and school wellness. On several issues, including school finances and the role of the teacher’s union in district policy, Rumery, Stickler and Johnson admitted they had more to learn about the subject, which they hoped to do as a board member.
All four candidates did well Tuesday night, said Shirley Parks, a current board member.
Parks, who edged out two opponents for a seat on the board in 2013, said there’s a great deal of pressure at such an event.
“I thought they did really well,” she said. “I really did.”
Ballots for the election must be returned to the Garfield County Clerk’s office by the end of the day Tuesday, Nov. 3. Registered voters in the Garfield Re-2 district can vote for candidates in all sub-districts.
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