A ‘sick-out’ over teacher pay leads Adams City High School to switch to remote learning

Two large brick school buildings with students walking along the sidewalk between them and cars parked on the street in the foreground.
Some teachers at Adams City High School planned to call off sick Wednesday to protest pay negotiations. (Yesenia Robles / Chalkbeat)

This story has been updated with additional comments from Adams 14 officials.

Adams 14 will move students at Adams City High School to remote learning Wednesday after learning many teachers were planning a sick-out, the district announced Tuesday

The action was not organized or sanctioned by the teacher’s union in the district, but by a group of teachers in the high school who are frustrated by a lack of prospects for teacher raises.

A letter circulated by staff that is signed by “Adams 14 District CTA Membership” — implying it is from members of the teacher’s union but not union leadership — states the concern is about how pay is affecting teacher retention.

“Our intention is not to disrupt education, but to voice our concerns regarding teacher retention, fair compensation, benefits, time management, and the overall need for a positive change by leadership,” the letter states. “The constant turnover in staff has hindered our mission to elevate our district from its current status. We acknowledge the financial challenges faced by the district, but we cannot overlook the disproportionate impact on teachers and staff compared to the recent raises and contract improvements that have been enjoyed by district leadership.”

In the current school year, a starting teacher’s salary is $50,500.

Many teachers believe that Superintendent Karla Loría and other district leaders have had recent raises, but there are no public documents demonstrating a school board vote for a raise for the superintendent or other district leaders.

On Wednesday morning, Joe Salazar, an attorney for the district, said he did not know how many Adams City High teachers had called in sick. Asked if teachers would be disciplined, Salazar wrote in an email, “Why would they be disciplined? They have the right to call in sick.”

As for Loría’s salary, Salazar said only that her “base salary” is $250,000. That has been her base salary since 2022, when the board gave her a raise to acknowledge that the district was no longer under third-party management.

Loría’s contract with the district states that she is to receive annual raises that amount to year-over-year change in the local consumer price index. It’s unclear if that has happened.

The Adams 14 school district has had low state ratings based largely on student test scores for more than 10 years, but was released from state orders to reorganize after leaders for the district and neighboring districts said it was not in anyone’s interest to reorganize.

The district has had declining enrollment like many metro area school districts. Some leaders still blame the years the district was ordered to be under management by private company MGT Consulting as the reason for continued budget problems.

Jason Malmberg, the president of the teachers union in Adams 14, said he believes the frustrations stem from the state intervention in the district.

“It’s related to the stress the state has put us under,” he said.

Malmberg said the frustrations facing teachers at Adams City High School are reflective of problems teachers face in high-poverty districts across the nation as it becomes more difficult to stretch budgets to serve children’s needs, and as gaps widen between districts that can raise local funds and districts that can’t.

School districts in Adams County have not had much success when it comes to asking local voters to raise taxes for schools. Adams 14 leaders have long hoped that the community would vote to approve a bond or mill levy request if the district showed improvement.

After MGT, Loría wanted to work with another third-party management firm, TNTP, that also cost the district millions. The contract with TNTP originally called for Adams 14 to pay $5 million over three years. The district last year tried to cut ties with the group early, citing budget concerns and other reasons. The state offered to give the district more money to help cover the contract, but the district eventually signed a new, reduced contract that cost only $395,587 for the second year of work.

Citing budget problems, the district also closed an elementary school and has said it is considering more closures in the future.

Some teachers, however, are concerned about whether the district leadership team has grown too large, including with many of Loría’s former colleagues, and wonder if new contracts have also taken up much of the budget.

In a letter obtained by Chalkbeat that is signed by the superintendent and addressed to a leader of the union at the high school, Loría stated that “the district will take action on all absences related to the planned sick-out.”

Loría also stated in the letter that she agrees that teachers need better pay and that the board is exploring a local tax request to increase revenue to be able to pay teachers more. But she accused the teacher leader of being abusive and violating policies.

“Your conduct and comments with me and certain cabinet members were unprofessional and disrespectful to the point of being abusive,” Loría wrote. “Your conduct was aggressive and defamatory (several times you claimed that the district was lying about the budget and “hiding” money), and you directed personal attacks against me while mansplaining matters of which you are wholly unfamiliar, while pointing your finger at me several times.”

In a reply also obtained by Chalkbeat, the teacher leader responded to Loría’s letter rejecting the accusations. The teacher leader, who did not respond to an interview request, said Loría’s letter had a “perceived retaliatory tone,” and that he plans to seek legal counsel.

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at yrobles@chalkbeat.org.

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