Guest Opinion: Garfield Re-2 school board urges ‘yes’ on 4A, 4B | PostIndependent.com

Guest Opinion: Garfield Re-2 school board urges ‘yes’ on 4A, 4B

Jay Rickstrew
Guest Opinion

Who are the people that helped you become who you are today?

In most cases parents are at the top of the list, and somewhere in the top five, there is usually an educator — a teacher, a secretary, a coach; someone that pushed you, believed in you, nurtured you, protected your secrets and helped you to become a better thinker, athlete, reader … person.

Every year, the Garfield School District Re-2 loses at least 20 percent of our teachers and staff. Beyond being educators, these are our neighbors, tenants, customers and community leaders. That’s just one reason why, after much deliberation and consideration, the Garfield Re-2 School Board unanimously voted to put 4A and 4B on the ballot this November.

Initiatives 4A and 4B are opportunities for tax dollars raised locally to stay local. We are asking the voters for a $4.9 million mill levy override to support a salary schedule that will be competitive with our neighboring school districts. We are also asking for a $5.7 million bond to build a four-classroom addition at Highland Elementary and a four-classroom addition at Cactus Valley Elementary. Currently, there are modular classrooms at each building to accommodate the students. Together this is about $50 per year per $100,000 of assessed valuation of your home — or about $4 a month.

Why are we here? Part of the reason is that the state’s budget stabilization factor (formerly known as the negative factor) has eliminated $36 million statutorily obligated to the Garfield School District Re-2 over the last seven years. That money could have been used to support the salaries of teachers and staff.

A staff turnover of 20 percent may not seem like a large impact. Consider that Garfield Re-2 is one of the largest employers in Garfield County with over 850 employees including coaches and substitute teachers. We turn over more than 150 people every year. Last year, of our 289 teachers, we lost 55. Not all of them left for financial reasons, but our exit survey data shows that salary and benefits are a top concern of our staff at all levels.

It should be. A teacher with a master’s degree can go to either of our sister school districts in the valley and make up to $10,000 more a year; they can, and some do. In many cases, they didn’t want to leave. Again, exit surveys show that, overall, teachers and staff say they felt supported, had great professional development, loved the people they worked with and the kids — they love our kids. But who can blame them? The allure of making significantly more money in a valley where everything costs more is appealing. That’s why we need 4A and 4B.

How can our sister districts afford to pay more?

Their taxpayers stood up and voted for educators to make a living wage. Garfield Re-2 voters passed a mill levy override in 2006 to support teachers and staff salaries. Since then, both of our neighboring school district have passed additional mill levy overrides.

As a school board, we have re-committed that any tax dollars from 4A and 4B would be applied only to the salaries of teachers and staff and the construction projects as required by law. If passed, we will have an oversight committee looking at how we are spending the additional revenue and reporting regularly.

The teachers and staff in Garfield School District Re-2 are among the best in the state. They make a difference in student’s lives every day. They help our students reach higher, dream bigger and achieve more each and every day.

The passage of 4A and 4B is critical to the success of our school district so that we can keep and recruit amazing teachers of future leaders, drivers to transport 2,400 children safely to and from school, nurses that care for everything from runny noses to helping students manage their diabetes, secretaries that juggle the needs of hundreds of students and dozens of staff, custodians that clean the halls and the bathrooms, and the cooks that serve nutritious meals.

Please join us in supporting 4A and 4B on this November’s ballot.

Jay Rickstrew is president of the Garfield Re-2 School Board. This column was written on behalf of the school board, including Anne Guettler, vice president; Shirley Parks, secretary; Jacquelyn Johnson, treasurer; and board member Brock Hedberg.