‘Paycheck-to-paycheck’

We asked Colorado teachers about their salaries and classroom needs. Here’s what they said.

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Educators wearing red and holding signs rally for more education funding at the Colorado Capitol on April 26, 2018.

Thousands of Colorado teachers are protesting at the state Capitol this week, demanding more money for schools, higher pay, and protection for their retirement benefits.

Chalkbeat wanted to better understand how the contentious issue of school funding impacts teachers’ lives and the lives of their students. We asked educators around the state to fill out a survey asking about their salaries and the needs they see in their classrooms.

We’ve excerpted some of their responses below.

Tell us about how well your salary matches your cost of living. Do you work a second job? Are there things you personally do without? Or do you feel like you get by?

“I work part-time as a lecturer at a university in the evenings to help my family. I have a child with a neurological disorder, so I have to pick up the slack that our expensive insurance doesn’t cover. I have two other children who need things, too. We are a paycheck-to-paycheck family.”
– Virginia Stewart, kindergarten teacher, Colorado Springs School District 11, $41,000/year

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“My salary definitely doesn’t match my cost of living now that my husband was laid off and took a lower-paying job. I have a second job selling essential oils. It brings in an extra $200 to 300 per month. We don’t have a lot of extras in our lives: cable TV, for example. Medical bills have caused credit card debt, and now we’re looking at a kid in college next year!”
– Sarah Hightower, 5th grade teacher, St. Vrain Valley School District, $54,000/year

“I live paycheck-to-paycheck. I have to get scholarships for my own children to attend camps, and I often waitress in the summer. I don’t buy new clothes or go on fancy trips unless my parents pay. Some months I’ve had to choose between food and gas.”
– Vicki Haber, 5th grade teacher, School District 27J, $53,000/year

What’s missing from your school or classroom that could be fixed by more money?

“My textbooks are 17 years old. I’m supposed to teach my students how to use online resources, but I can almost never get time in the computer lab. We need things that should be basic like markers, colored pencils, tissues, etc. But we don’t have any budget for that kind of stuff so what we do have is donated or paid for by me.”
– Rose Pompey, 8th grade social studies teacher, Jeffco Public Schools

“Air conditioning, no cockroaches, better chairs and tables, textbooks, dry erase boards that work, basic classroom supplies like paper, pencils, tissues, etc.”
– Marcea Copeland-Rodde, 7th grade social studies teacher, Pueblo City Schools

“The school I teach at is in a rural community, and it is a very small school. We have kindergarteners through twelfth grade all in one school.

“The school is very old and run down. We often have troubles keeping it warm in the winter time and cool in the early fall and late spring when school is still in session. I often have to teach wearing a winter coat and gloves. Teachers often keep blankets handy to give to students to keep them warm when the heat is not keeping up.

“Most of the classrooms are very small and are inadequate when trying teach larger classes. The rooms need remodeled and need new furniture.

“There is also a need for more technology in the classroom to better engage students. … I often cannot make copies or print anything due to technology that isn’t working and cannot get fixed until Thursday because that is the only day the IT person works at the school.”
– Karlee Harris, middle-level math and social studies teacher, Lone Star School in Otis

Some believe schools don’t need more money, they just need to be funded differently. How do you respond to that?

“We can’t continue to do more with less. It’s not sustainable. Our kids deserve to have what they need to learn: up-to-date materials and resources, chairs that aren’t broken, tables and desks that don’t fall apart when you set a book on them, and teachers who are paid well so that they can focus on doing this one job really well, not worrying about doing two more in addition to teaching to just get by.”
– Teresa Brown, dean of student support, Colorado Springs School District 11

“I believe that the whole education system is in a top-down approach. This is negatively impacting education. I think budget priorities need to be as such:
1. Student/classroom needs
2. Teacher pay
3. Other personnel pay (custodians, support staff, etc.)
4. Administration pay.”
– Quinn McNierney, 5th grade reading, writing, and social studies teacher, Pueblo City Schools

“I agree that if we stopped paying to test students to death, we could save a great deal.”
– Jennifer Martinez, elementary music teacher, Poudre School District

What else would you like to share?

“I won the Mary Simon Award for Exceptional Teaching, and now Colorado is losing a good teacher. I have to move out of state as the cost of living is too high, and the state is not meeting that with their teacher pay. I don’t want to leave Colorado, but for the sake of my future, I have to leave. I am going to go to Texas, where a first year teacher is paid $53,000! I am nowhere close to that pay and I am in year six. Plus, the cost of living is much lower so I’ll finally be able to live a life where it’s not month-to-month and never knowing if I’ll have money for food the last week of each month without having to add to my credit card debt.”
– Shannon Rizza, kindergarten teacher, Aurora Public Schools

“Those who are against teachers are part of the problem. A day without teachers is absolutely necessary. It should inconvenience people. Its impact should be felt. Teachers deserve better and the time is now.”
– Edwina Lucero, high school music teacher, STRIVE Prep, Denver

“The issue is funding as a whole, not just teacher pay. Some believe that’s all we want.”
– Crystal Lytle, 3rd grade teacher, Moffat County School District

funding dance

Indiana to tap reserves to free up $140M for teacher pay, Holcomb promises

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Governor-Elect Eric Holcomb speaks to Republican supporters at an Election night event.

Indiana plans to free up $140 million over two years for schools with the goal of increasing teacher pay, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb pledged Tuesday night in his State of the State address.

The state will tap into its $2 billion in reserves to pay down a pension liability for schools, Holcomb said, reducing schools’ expenses so more money could go to educators.

“Just like paying off your mortgage frees up money in your personal budget, this state investment will save all local schools $140 million over the biennium with continued savings thereafter,” Holcomb said.

He said he hoped schools would use the savings to increase teacher salaries. Lawmakers said after the speech that they would look for ways to make sure local districts direct more dollars to teachers.

The freed-up funding would equate to relatively small raises for Indiana’s roughly 70,000 public school teachers. In a bill seeking designated funds for teacher pay, Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, estimated it would cost $315 million to raise educators’ salaries by 5 percent over two years.

The move to find the money to increase teacher pay comes after education leaders raised concerns over not having earmarked dollars. Holcomb previously suggested that schools use their overall funding, proposed to increase by 2 percent each year, for teachers’ salaries. Other Republican lawmakers have also proposed increasing teacher pay by reducing school budgets in other areas.

Still, the $140 million would come from reduced expenses, not a new influx of state dollars. Lawmakers would still have to approve the move.

“Personally, I think it’s a wise use of surplus,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

Against a backdrop of an ongoing teacher strike in Los Angeles and large-scale teacher demonstrations in places such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona, Indiana has made addressing teacher pay a top priority in this year’s legislative session. Indiana ranks 18th highest in the nation for teachers salaries adjusted for cost of living, according to an analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics and Council of Community and Economic Research — leading some to fear teachers will flee to higher-paying states.

But while the issue has easily won bipartisan support and united unlikely allies, it has proved more difficult to find a solution — namely, the money — that satisfies educators and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“It’s too early to pick a number,” Bosma said, though both Republican and Democratic leaders agreed after the speech that the $140 million — while a “creative” approach — wasn’t enough.

“We can do that this year,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. “We can find a way to give an increase in teacher pay this year. We don’t have to kick the can down the road. We don’t have to say, oh, let’s turn it back over to the local school districts and let them find the money.”

But a meaningful solution could take time: Holcomb also announced Tuesday night the formation of a commission to study teacher compensation and search for ways to improve salaries, with the goal of proposing action in 2021. Business leader Michael L. Smith, an investment fund co-founder and retired Anthem executive, will lead the commission.

“Teachers deserve compensation that reflects one of the most honorable, critical and challenging occupations in the state,” tweeted Lawrence Township teacher Tamara Markey, Indiana’s Teacher of the Year, who was among community leaders invited by House Republicans to provide social media commentary on the speech.

Holcomb’s State of the State speech also emphasized workforce development, including preparing high school students for careers. He introduced Mary Roberson, superintendent of Perry Central Community Schools, to tout the district’s partnerships with local manufacturers to give students hands-on training.

“A strong economy depends on a world-class workforce,” Holcomb said. “That workforce depends on a great education. A great education depends on great teachers.”

protest prep

Los Angeles teachers went on strike Monday. Here’s what you need to know.

Teachers, retired teachers and parents show their support for UTLA in front of Venice High School in Venice, Calif., on Jan. 10, 2019. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The nation’s second-largest school district will be upended Monday as Los Angeles teachers are set to go on strike.

Teachers and their union say they are fighting for higher pay, lower class sizes, and more support for district schools. The district says it agrees with many of the union’s demands, but can’t pay for them given its fiscal realities.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles rejected a final offer from the district Friday afternoon, which included steeper class size reductions and more nurses and counselors for schools. There was no bargaining over the weekend.

What will happen at Los Angeles schools on Monday?

Schools will remain open — with other staff, emergency substitutes, and parent volunteers supervising kids. Teachers will be outside picketing. Inside, the L.A. Times reports that “schools have been preparing to keep students together in large spaces and use online education when they can.”

Is this a continuation of the #RedForEd wave of teacher protest?

Yes and no. Schools staying open marks one crucial difference from what happened when teachers went on strike in West Virginia last year, closing schools for nearly two weeks. That was the start of a wave of teacher activism focused on school funding and teacher pay, reaching Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona.

The L.A. Times has a helpful look at why this strike is both similar to and different from the ones across the country last year. Unlike in those red states, it notes, California teachers can’t be portrayed as “victims of Republican machinations” because the state government is reliably Democratic:

An us-versus-them construct, however, does not translate readily to California, where unions are among the state’s most powerful special interests.

And L.A. teachers must face off against a district whose leaders echo their union’s demand for increased state and federal funding for schools.

The union leader also is trying to put forward a complex argument on funding. While [UTLA president Alex] Caputo-Pearl argues that the state needs to do much more, he also says that L.A. Unified is hoarding a fortune — and that district leadership is choosing to starve its schools.

What are the union and the district really fighting about?

The L.A. Times broke down the essential disagreement over funding in a separate story this weekend. In short: Although the district currently has a substantial surplus, the district’s analyses, as well as one from L.A. County, suggest it will soon turn into a deficit. The union claims the district is “hoarding” money, while the district says it’s simply being prudent. At the same time, a proposed budget from the state’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, could bring an infusion of new resources. Reporter Howard Blume ends it here:

Beutner says the union’s demands would cost $3 billion. That’s debatable, partly because the union has not responded to the district with specifics on how much smaller it is asking for classes to be. The union’s position, so far, is to demand the elimination of a contract clause that gives the district broad authority over class sizes. …

Everyone wants smaller class sizes — teachers, parents, students. But meaningful class-size reduction is one of the most expensive reforms in education.

What about charter schools?

Unlike in most places that saw teacher strikes last year, Los Angeles is set to see charter schools play a big role in striking teachers’ rhetoric.

The union has gone on the attack against charters, which serve about one in five Los Angeles public school students and are mostly non-unionized. UTLA recently called for stopping any new charters from opening, pinning the district’s financial struggles on their growth.

The union also believes that the district wants to implement a “portfolio model” of managing schools, a controversial idea that often brings about charter school growth and holds district and charter schools accountable for their results in similar ways. (The district says it has no such plans.)

These union–charter battles have deeply shaped the district’s politics. The last set of school board elections were the most expensive in American history, with charter supporters spending nearly $10 million and unions putting in over $5 million.

But the union’s contract demands only briefly touch on charters. Charters, though, are the focus of many district educators’ anger over not having the resources they say they need and, in the unions’ telling, amount to privatization of public education.

Some of L.A.’s charter schools share buildings with district schools, making some confrontation possible on Monday.

The head of the state charter association wrote an open letter to Caputo-Pearl before the strike. “Please be kind to both our District and charter community,” wrote Myrna Castrejón on Friday. “Students, parents, and school staff aren’t crossing picket lines to make political statements.” (The union’s strike guidelines tells members not to “get involved in confrontations or debates,” threaten people who cross the picket line, or block entrances for kids. “It’s okay to make adults wait a little while to get in [to schools], though,” UTLA says.)

As to the substantive debate, each side can point to research backing up one of their key points. Academic analyses from other states, as well as a union-backed report from Los Angeles, show that districts really do lose resources as charters grow, at least in the short term. At the same time, studies show Los Angeles charter students do better on state tests than similar students in district schools.

What does this mean for teacher unions nationwide?

As the strike kicks off, other teachers unions will be paying attention — wearing red in solidarity or watching for cues as they inch toward strikes of their own. In Denver, for one, the teachers union is entering its last week of negotiations. And as CALmatters noted on Jan. 11:

Issues at the forefront of the LAUSD dispute, such as rising pension costs, declining enrollment and the charged debate over charter schools, are also brewing in other school districts across the state.

The looming strike in Los Angeles has made ripples in local unions across California. Teachers in the Oakland Unified School District, for example, are nearing a potential strike and plan to rally Saturday similar to a demonstration UTLA held in downtown Los Angeles in mid-December.

What will the political ramifications of the strike be?

That’s not at all clear, and likely depends on the length of the strike and the public response. But there is a special election around the corner to fill the seventh seat on the closely divided LAUSD board. Expect the strike and its fallout to play a big role in the race.

A few prominent elected officials have also weighed in supporting teachers, including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and California Rep. Ro Khanna — though most national Democrats have been silent.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is mulling a run for president, has tried to broker an agreement between the two sides, to no avail. A strike would complicate a campaign kickoff.

“Launching a presidential bid while thousands of chanting, sign-toting teachers take to the streets would seem to be a non-starter,” the L.A. Times wrote. “A strike could force Garcetti to push back any presidential announcement, as better-known rivals enter the race, soak up media attention and begin fundraising.”