Teachers from RE-1 Valley, Merino, Fleming and Haxtun School Districts, as well as students, parents and supporters, converged at the Logan County Courthouse on Friday to seek more funding for K-12 education. The rally, which forced RE-1 classes to be cancelled for the day, was part of a statewide "Day of Action" organized by the Colorado Education Association that included a rally at the state Capitol.
Samantha Fennell, kindergarten teacher at Ayres Elementary and SPEA (South Platte Education Association) president, welcomed everyone.
"We are glad to have you here showing support for quality funding for public education. Our school rural communities have such a special place in my heart and we truly deserve to have the best educational programs that we can offer," she said.
Fennell also thanked business supporters including the Zion Church, J&L Café, Bamboo Gardens, Brew Grit Coffee, Wonderful House, Quilts and Creations, Ella J, CJ's Auto Detailing and Little Caesars.
Marybeth Skerjanec, eighth grade language arts teacher at Sterling Middle School, asked teachers to share why they love to teach. One teacher said she wants to help students develop a passion for science like she has, another said she enjoys watching her students light up when they understand something and a third said she enjoys being able to give her students knowledge and help them learn something they didn't know before.
In regards to why more education funding is needed teachers said because their children are worth it and they want the best education for their students and their own children and grandchildren.
"What a great, great gift we've been given to be teachers, nothing better than to be educators," Skerjanec said. "I love that we're together on this, I love how many people have come together and we're making it work, all of us as a group, because we can make a change. If you're not a part of the solution you're a part of the problem and we are the solution, we are the ones to make a change."
It's not only about teachers though. It's about bus drivers, "fixing the buses, making our bus drivers worthy, letting them have what it takes," Skerjanec said. And it's about secretaries, custodians and paraprofessionals who help make schools run.
"They deserve so much better," Skerjanec said. "Paras deserve to have their benefits brought back, they deserve full-time status because they are full-time people; they are not part-time people."
Lee Fetters, eighth grade language art teacher at SMS, commented that the local teachers join teachers across the state and nation who are "standing up for what our students and our communities deserve," he said.
"We felt that organizing here in Logan County and in Sterling was particularly important, because we need attention on Northeast Colorado as a region, of course this is a metro issue as well, but rural schools have been hit the hardest with these economic shortfalls and underfunding," he said. "We really need to equate our youth as well as possible; we need an equitable education with the Front Range."
Fetters also said a few words to the families who may have been inconvenienced because classes had to be cancelled Friday.
"We do want to apologize for that piece, however we want them to know that we're doing this for the students, that we're doing this for our communities and their understanding really goes a long way with all of this," he said.
Fetters told the crowd this is just a first step. They will be holding listening sessions to try to educate the public and get input from them.
"I think we all understand the misunderstandings divide communities. So, what we need to do is help our community understand, really have the knowledge base to dispel rumors," he said. "We're not being selfish as educators, we've really put ourselves on the backburner for a long time for our students and all of this is for them."
Teachers spoke about wanting to help students achieve their dreams; wanting children in the community to be respected, happy and educated; and wanting to keep quality teachers here.
"Let's keep RE-1 strong, let's quit losing them," Skerjanec said, speaking about how the district is losing teachers not just to the Front Range, but to other smaller nearby districts. "I'm trying to hold on to my great teachers; sometimes that becomes difficult when we don't have the funding. I would never blame a teacher for leaving for a better quality of life, so let's make that quality of life for all of us."
She also spoke about wanting to lower class sizes to be able to provide more one-on-one attention to students, and give special education students the services they deserve.
Jacqui Mitchek, a former SMS teacher, spoke about returning RE-1 to a destination district.
"RE-1 was a sought after district to teach in 15 years ago, teachers retired comfortably from RE-1 and a long list of applicants interviewed for those available positions. A wait list seemed to exist to teach in Sterling, we must return to that existence. Our students deserve consistency," she said.
Mitchek pointed out that teachers are highly educated professionals that deserve to live comfortably without second jobs to make ends meet.
"Teachers deserve to retire within the community they helped build, without being forced to return to the workforce because their retirement cannot meet their needs," she said.
Mitchek shared that when she was a teacher she attended professional development during summers and additional trainings with other colleagues during the year, sometimes on their own dime, in order to be a better educator.
David Monheiser, science teacher at Caliche Jr./Sr. High, called upon Colorado to make an investment in education, so that all people reap the reward of a well funded education system.
"Our students deserve full-time committed teachers all the time, they deserve ample extracurricular opportunities and technologically advanced experiences, classrooms that are designed to enhance learning filled with enthusiastic teachers and staff," he said.
He pointed out the many teachers who have written grants in order to provide the materials and experiences needed to give students the best education.
"Colorado has an education funding problem. If you look at what all area schools students have accomplished at the local, state and national level, imagine what could happen if our schools were actually fully funded?" Monheiser said.
He noted that just recently the Denver news stated Colorado is no longer 46th in national average of teacher salaries, but perhaps 31st.
"That's still the bottom of the barrel," Monheiser said. "With Colorado's great economy why settle for less than the top 10, the top five, why can't we be number one?"
He talked about how students are being turned away from education as a profession, as they see their teachers waiting on them at a restaurant as a second job for money to pay the bills. The students are also asked to be part of the "fundraising machine" to keep their program or activity funded and they see, hear and read the lack of support for schools.
"Until we unite for the common good of Colorado's students, progress will not be made, it is simply about students, communities and humanity, after all, teachers make all other professions possible," Monheiser said.
"I believe that the hearts of superintendents, school boards and principals throughout our region ache, because they cannot provide more financially for their staff."
He noted a frequent question of educators is "when will you leave education?" His response "until this noble an influential profession causes a breaking point in my ability to provide for my family."
RE-1 Board of Education member Dena Vogel gave her support to teachers, students, paras and all of the staff.
"I want you to know as a school board member I want to give you back those things, but we need funding so we can do that," she said, adding that she's seen the great things that many teachers in RE-1 do. "My children have benefited a lot from this district and I am proud to be part of it."
Another RE-1 board member, Riste Capps, echoed Vogel's comments, telling the teachers how proud she is of them for marching "to let our county know and our community know that education costs money, teachers deserve a good salary, our children deserve the very best, it has got to be our number one priority in our community," she said. "Myself, and all the dedicated board members that we have will definitely try to help you achieve that."
At the end of the rally, supporters were able to register to vote and sign a petition to put Initiative 93 on the November election ballot, a statewide measure that would provide additional funding for K-12 funding, including $4 million for RE-1, by increasing taxes for those who make more than $150,000.
Teachers then made their way to Zion Church, where they listened to presentations on teacher shortages and rural school funding; PERA; and Initiative 93. They will be out canvassing the area, asking people to sign a petition for Initiative 93. Supporters are also being asked to contact legislators to seek better funding.
Callie Jones: 970-526-9286, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact a legislator
State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg
4465 County Road 63
Sterling, CO 80751
State Rep. Jon Becker
200 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80203