Held at Riverview Golf Course, Friday's awards dinner recognized staff from Logan County's four school districts - RE-1 Valley, Merino, Fleming and Peetz - as well as Northeastern Junior College.
Merino Superintendent Rob Sanders served as the emcee for the evening. After his welcome, the newspaper recognized the following sponsors who helped cover the cost of the event: A All Area Transmission, Barnes Pharmacy/Barb's Main Street Gifts, Best West Tires (who sponsored two tables), First Farm Bank, Merino School District, Northeastern Junior College, Peetz School District, Sterling Livestock Commission, Dianne Budin with Vandenbark Realty, and Journal-Advocate/South Platte Sentinel.
Following an invocation by JA/SPS Publisher Julie Tonsing and dinner, it was time to hand out awards to some very deserving teachers and staff. The Sterling Rotary Club helped to select this year's winners, who were nominated by school staff members. Along with the award, winners also received a coupon for a free oil change from Best West Tires, Chamber bucks from RE-1 Valley Foundation and special tributes from the Colorado Senate delivered by Senator Jerry Sonneberg, who was the keynote speaker for the evening.
The 2018 Crystal Apple Award recipients were:
• Joyce DeHerrera - paraprofessional, Hagen Early Education Center
• Kristy Chavez - second grade teacher, Ayres Elementary
• Stefani Gebhart - interventionist, instructional coach, Campbell Elementary
• Jan Mari - sixth grade language arts teacher and student council advisor, Sterling Middle School
• Brian Nab - head custodian, Sterling High School
• Ryan Rosete - music teacher, Caliche Elementary
• Jeanett Lambrecht - Business teacher, FBLA advisor, athletics coach, junior class sponsor, Caliche Jr./Sr. High School
• Ron Kuskie - mechanic/bus driver, RE-1 Valley transportation department
• Christy Stumpf - sixth grade mathematics and language arts teacher, Fleming Elementary/Jr. High
• Harry Harms - maintenance/transportation director, Fleming High School
• Kathy Piel - administrative assistant, Merino Elementary School
• Aurea Arenas - seventh through 12th grade science teacher and athletic coach, Peetz Jr./Sr. High
• Celena Kennedy - special education director, Peetz Elementary
• Julie Brower - director of nursing, Northeastern Junior College
Feature stories on all the winners were included in a special supplement to Saturday's Journal-Advocate and the April 25 edition of the Sentinel.
Following the awards, keynote speaker Senator Sonnenberg congratulated the award winners.
"This is great event, a great evening with a number of deserving award winners that are key in education," he said. "It's an honor to be here and celebrate with you."
Sonnenberg recalled several great teachers that he had in his life, who taught him important lessons he has carried with him through life. He also talked about the challenges educators face, as the demands on them have increased over the years.
"So why don't we pay you more? You realize that most starting teachers qualify for welfare, that is unreasonable," Sonnenberg said.
In talking about how to solve that problem, he mentioned that over the last eight years Colorado has had a 38 percent increase in funding for education. While that sounds like a lot, it's only about 4.75 percent a year.
"When you take the cost of living out and then you look at what we're having to do with PERA, and what may happen there, you're actually going backwards. If we have to increase the school's portion of PERA 2 or 3 percent and the teachers have to pay more into PERA, all the sudden you go backwards," Sonnenberg said.
He admitted it would be tough for him to remain in a job where he couldn't continue to move forward, as is the case for education, because the cost of living eats any funding increases given, so the state can't totally fund schools, thus school employees can't get a step or a raise or help from having to buy their own classroom supplies because the school can't afford it.
"It's hard because of the taxing structure we have. Understand that the property tax that we have contributed steadily declines, so the legislature has to make that up that," Sonnenberg said, explaining that the property tax declines because of the Gallagher Amendment, which requires the state to take 55 percent of all property tax from personal property or homes and 45 percent from business.
This year the state has a surplus, so it is looking at increasing education funding by $150 million over and above the base, which Sonnenberg admitted is not near enough, because it should be about $1 billion according to Amendment 23.
"There's another half a million or so in there, from other bills that came forward to help with teacher retention, to help with all sorts of different things, through the legislature, but even at that rate we're still underneath where we need to be to meet what the voters said should go to education," Sonnenberg said.
He told the audience the problem is with messaging and finding a way to message how important education is so it becomes a priority.
"I wish I had the answer; if the answer was easy we'd have done it," Sonnenberg said.
He talked about how hard he's fought to get more money to rural schools, pointing to his Sustainability of Rural Colorado bill that passed last year, but noted the problem is if he can't get more funding to rural schools every year superintendents can't spend that money on raises to teachers, because if that money isn't there next year, how do you sustain that raise?
Sonnenberg suggested the state needs to come up with a five-year plan so that districts can count on having the additional funding needed every year.
Following his remarks, Tonsing gave a few remarks, thanking all the award winners for the important part they have in students' lives.
"We know that without you and the work that you do our world would not be anything like it is now," she said.
In closing, Superintendent Sanders thanked Sonnenberg for helping to provide additional funds for rural schools, but pointed out in regards to the rallies that are occurring across the state, while people believe it's about better teacher pay, it's not about that alone; "it is about providing a quality education to children."
"When we say we need resources, we need books, we need desks, we need chairs, we need buses, but what's our number one resource? That is a quality teacher in front of every single child every single day. I will not be apologetic to say we need to increase the salaries of our number one resource," Sanders said, pointing to Initiative 93 as the solution and encouraging people to sign a petition to get it on the November election ballot.