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Teachers from across the state are planning on protest marches and rallies from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., on April 26 and 27, around Civic Center Park and the state capitol.
Parking will be limited. Food trucks will be available. Supporters are asked to “wear red for education.”
Teachers from Jefferson County will join the hundreds who have already lobbied at the Colorado State Capitol this month pressuring lawmakers to address education funding and protect the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA).
“Our voices need to be heard,” said Rhiannon Wenning teacher at Jefferson Junior/Senior High. “We are a direct link to our students’ success and our voices need to be heard. If it’s going to take thousands of us to storm the Capitol, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
More that 1,600 Jeffco educators are expected to descend on the capitol April 26 to send the message to legislators.
For Wenning, who has taught at Jefferson for 17 years, it’s about ensuring that public education in Colorado is made a priority.
“I think our kids are just as important as transportation if not more,” Wenning said. “My personal reason is to stand up for my students and public education in Colorado.”
Outdated resources, textbooks and building conditions are some of the reasons Wenning is hoping to draw attention to the lack of education funding.
“Colorado has one of the strongest economies in the U.S. and yet we are 46th in compensating our educators” said John Ford, social studies teacher at Moore Middle School and president of the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA). “Our members are working multiple jobs and making other sacrifices, like delaying starting families, in order to be able to live in the communities they work in. That’s not OK.”
Leaders of the JCEA, which represents more than 5,000 licensed educators in the county, divided among 154 different schools, voted unanimously at their April council meeting to take action, by marching on April 26.
The district has called for a non-student contact day on the 26th, after more than 35 percent of its licensed employees requesting it as a personal day.
Parents were informed of the closure April 17 with a letter sent by Superintendent Jason Glass.
“K-12 public education funding and the long-term stabilization of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) system are problematic in Colorado,” Glass wrote in the letter. “Public education staff, parents, and other supporters have become increasingly vocal in their advocacy for increased funding for our K-12 public schools and the stabilization of PERA. There is a belief among these groups that years of low funding is having a significant impact on our ability to attract quality candidates into the teaching profession, and is impeding the ability to effectively deliver the high level of educational experience our students deserve.”
According to Scott Kwasny, director of communications for the JCEA, nothing in the current teacher contracts in Jeffco prohibits Thursday’s walk-out.
“We don’t have a ‘no strike’ clause,” Kwasny said. “Educators are using a personal day to go to the capitol and raise awareness about the crisis in education funding. They have all followed the contract and district policy. The employer isn’t the target of this action.”
Jeffco schools communication officer Diana Wilson emphasised that this action does not violate teacher contracts.
“Teachers have personal leave time, and the action is not to pressure the district,” Wilson said. “JCEA was courteous enough to inform Superintendent Dr. Glass they were considering asking members to rally at the capitol on April 26. This enabled the district to monitor substitute teacher requests.”
Jeffco schools board president Ron Mitchell said that while the board may have issues with the day out of school, they support the concept of the protest.
“I think they certainly have a right to do it,” Mitchell said. “The board of course has consistently take a position that K-12 funding in the state of Colorado is inadequate. In terms of concept, we agree the funding needs to be modified and that our legislators need to demonstrate leadership to make these changes.”
The state of Colorado ranks in the bottom five in the nation for K-12 education funding.
“I think that the teachers believe we are behind in Jeffco,” Mitchell said. “As a board we have to do what we can in terms of compensation. We also have to be wise enough to look at other priorities in the district.”
Following the Great Recession in the late 2000s and early 2010s, educators and administrators came together in order to cut millions of dollars from the Jeffco budget. There were pay cuts and freezes for almost a decade.
With a booming economy, educators from around the state are hopeful that something can be done about TABOR and the Budget Stabilization Factor (BS Factor) which JCEA says is “shortchanging Colorado students to the tune of $830 million a year.” Jeffco’s share of that shortfall is roughly $83 million; about 10 percent of the district’s overall yearly budget.
While the teacher’s decision to lobby on a school day and the school closure may be inconvenient for parents, many are also asking what they can do to help.
“We’re very supportive of teachers being given that time to advocate at the capitol for more education funding,” said Jeffco parent and Golden resident Tony Martinez. “We’ve always held the belief that teachers should be treated in terms of pay as one would look at a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer because of the work they are doing to educate our kids and prepare them for the world.”
Martinez said it “blows his mind” hearing that teachers have to have two to three jobs outside the classroom to survive cost-of-living in Colorado.
The Jeffco protest comes 10 days after about 400 teachers, many from Englewood Schools, protested at the Capitol. Teachers from other school districts, including Denver, plan to walk out April 27.
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