Alex Sanchez column: Yes on 5B offers immediate support for schools, but intentional Latino involvement must be front and center |

Alex Sanchez column: Yes on 5B offers immediate support for schools, but intentional Latino involvement must be front and center

Alex Sanchez
Voces Unidas
Alex Sánchez is the founder and executive director of Voces Unidas Action Fund, a Latino-led advocacy organization based in Glenwood Springs.

We know access to a high-quality education is vital to every student in the Roaring Fork School District.

Unfortunately, this access is not guaranteed — particularly when teachers are in short supply. Low wages and the rising cost of housing and other living expenses are pushing teachers out the door to more affordable areas. More than one-third of new teachers leave the RFSD due to financial concerns. And those teachers who do stick around are picking up second or even third jobs to make ends meet.

Given this special sense of urgency as our schools lose passionate, qualified teachers, we actively support the salary increases for RFSD teachers and school staff that would come with a yes vote on the 5B mill levy override. When three out of four teachers turn down employment because of the cost of living, something needs to be done.

However, our support for the goals of 5B is independent of our larger concern about the district’s lack of engagement with the largest segment of the student population, Latinos.

Latinos make up nearly 60% of the student population in RFSD but are often underrepresented in every facet of decision-making in public education.

The 5B mill levy process was yet another example of the district’s inability to effectively involve a major portion of its parents. For example, the internal committee that decided problems and solutions did not reflect today’s RFSD student population. If the internal process was more representative of the community, student achievement for Latinos and English-language learners might have been top of mind, and other important solutions would have surfaced.

There is a lot of talk in our local ecosystem about “stakeholder engagement” and “equity.” But I would rather see words turn into actions and not just typed in a strategic plan.

As our school district continues to evolve and diversify, Latinos must play an active role in the decision-making and engagement processes. During the development of 5B, Latino parents and education activists were left on the sidelines. They should be the ones helping to drive the vision and the direction of the district, not the other way around.

At Voces Unidas, we believe this district needs more champions for equity and education justice, especially given their current student demographics.

From job loss and food insecurity to learning loss, Latino families suffered disproportionately at the hands of the pandemic. Those facts can no longer be ignored.

As our community builds back, we know access to public education will play a pivotal role in our recovery as a whole. Education is a top priority among not only Latino families, but Voces Unidas.

We support salary increases for our district’s overworked and underpaid teachers and staff. And we want to see concrete plans for Latino engagement and involvement in district decision-making. RFSD can be a leader in education equity — it’s time to step up and lead.

Committed and caring educators and support staff are critical to our kids’ success, and 5B is a needed measure. Moving forward, it can be the foundation for broad success for all of our students and the district.

Alex Sánchez is the founder and executive director of Voces Unidas Action Fund, a Latino-created, Latino-led advocacy organization working in Lake, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties.

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