Superintendent’s Corner: Home is where the heart is
Housing — particularly housing for the superintendent — has been a topic of much conversation in recent weeks. I would like to share with the broader community the statement that I shared at the March 15 Board meeting, including some updated sentiments, below:
When I first learned about the opportunity to apply to be superintendent of the Roaring Fork Schools, I was immediately drawn to the strengths of this community outlined in this report and presentation: a community that celebrated its diversity, a focus on ensuring all students achieve at high levels, and a commitment to equity. I also learned early on about some of the challenges facing the district, including hiring and retaining great teachers and leaders, specifically, addressing housing, cost of living, and compensation.
As a potential candidate, before I even applied to be superintendent, I became aware of the cost of living here. I, like the other candidates who didn’t own a home in this Valley, asked if the Board was considering any kind of housing assistance. I was told that the Board was aware of this challenge and would be exploring options. It soon became clear, however, that the Board was not ready to take action immediately.
The lack of housing assistance was not a dealbreaker for my family and me. In addition to being excited to be a part of the great work already happening in the district and the opportunity to work on some of the challenges related to teaching and learning that our district was facing, we were also motivated to return to Colorado. Contrary to popular belief, I am not from Texas; I was born and raised in Colorado and, although we loved living in Dallas, my family and I were eager to be closer to our family and friends in Colorado. Our hearts are in Colorado and in positively impacting the lives of young people through education.
Coming back to Colorado, and moving to the Roaring Fork Valley, came with many challenges and sacrifices for our family. We sold our house in Dallas and, after much searching, were fortunate to find a place to rent in Glenwood Springs. While we would like to purchase a home in the Roaring Fork Valley, we, like so many others, face limited inventory, dramatic recent increases in home prices, and interest rates that continue to rise. Though the cost of living in Dallas was relatively high, it pales in comparison to the Roaring Fork Valley.
At the March 1 Board meeting, the Board directed me to explore down payment assistance options for staff. I appreciated the directive because I believe that our approach to support housing must be multifaceted and include all staff — a sentiment I have heard from staff across the district. We must find solutions around housing for all of our staff, including teachers, bus drivers, food and nutrition service workers, leaders, paraprofessionals, in short – everyone. I believe this wholeheartedly, and have regularly communicated it. We will continue to face recruitment and retention challenges until we find meaningful housing solutions.
Housing and compensation have been major focus areas since before and after my arrival in the Roaring Fork Schools. I am proud of the work our team has led with our housing program, including the current work to develop 50 new rental units for staff in Carbondale. Additionally, I am proud of the work we accomplished this year around compensation with the Roaring Fork Community Education Association via the Interest-Based Bargaining process. Compensation and creative solutions around housing options, whether expanding the rental program or creating more pathways to homeownership, are a part of solving the cost of living crisis for our staff. This was echoed at the recent Regional Housing Summit in Aspen.
On March 10, the Board released this memo indicating their intent to provide the superintendent with housing assistance. Since the release of the memo, we have learned of many concerns, we have received a lot of questions, the Board hosted a town hall, and our team created this page to share information and answer FAQs.
I want to thank our Board for exploring housing assistance for the superintendent role and for directing the exploration of pathways to homeownership for all staff. And, though the Board has not yet engaged with me about possible terms nor taken any action regarding housing assistance for the superintendent, I imagine that I will have to respectfully decline. Not because I disagree with their offer, but because it is an untenable situation to be in as the first beneficiary of such a program.
I encourage our Board to continue exploring pathways for homeownership, in collaboration with broader stakeholders as they have already begun to do. I encourage our broader community to ask clarifying questions, give input, and seek to understand. I am confident that, together, our community can solve many challenges creatively through meaningful collaboration. The Board recently communicated via this letter that they are looking for more input. Please consider participating in this opportunity to inform this important work for our district.
I do not want there to be any confusion about my motivation or recommendation to the Board that they continue exploring this proposal. I believe that, in order to recruit and retain great educators, the Board must continue to prioritize housing solutions for all staff, including the next superintendent of this district.
I know that all of the educators in our valley make tremendous sacrifices to live here and do so because of their love for our students. Let us come together to ensure we are able to retain and recruit high quality educators for the benefit of our students.
Jesús Rodríguez is Superintendent of the Roaring Fork District Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
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