‘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

school facilities

Cold temps close Memphis state-run schools, highlighting bigger issue of repairing costly, aging buildings

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary was one of four school closed Tuesday due to heating issues.

More than 1,200 students in Tennessee’s turnaround district stayed home from school on Tuesday because their school heating systems weren’t working properly.

Temperatures dipped below 35 degrees, and four schools in the Achievement School District opted to cancel classes because of boiler issues: Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Corning Achievement Elementary School, and Martin Luther King Jr. High School. In addition, Kirby Middle School decided to close Wednesday.

Aging school buildings in Memphis have caused headaches and missed school time for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District, which occupies buildings rent-free from the local district. Just last week, Hamilton High School in Shelby County Schools closed for two days after a power outage caused by heavy rain, and Kirby High School remains closed because of a rodent infestation. Kirby’s students are being housed in different schools for the rest of the semester while repairs are made to rid the school of pests. And Shelby County Schools had to deal with the dropping temperatures on Tuesday as well, with Westwood High School and Oak Forest Elementary ending classes early due to their own heating issues. Westwood High will remain closed Wednesday.

But Tuesday’s closures for state-run schools point to a larger issue of facilities: In a city full of older school buildings needing expensive updates, who pays, and who does the work? There is a formal maintenance agreement between the two districts, but the lines that divide responsibilities for repairs are not always clear.

Shelby County Schools is responsible for bigger fixes in the state district, such as new roofs or heating and air conditioning systems, while the state district’s charter operators are responsible for daily maintenance.

Bobby White, chief of external affairs for the Achievement School District, said they are working with Shelby County Schools to resolve the heating problem at the three elementary schools, two of which share a building. But he said that the issues won’t be fixed by Wednesday, and the schools will remain closed.

“We know it throws off our teachers and students to miss class,” White said. “It’s an unfortunate situation. And it underscores the larger issue of our buildings not being in good shape.”

The charter organization Frayser Community Schools runs MLK Jr. High School as part of the Achievement School District, and a spokeswoman for Frayser said they were handling the boiler repairs on their own as opposed to working with Shelby County Schools. School will remain canceled at the high school on Wednesday.

“Currently our maintenance team is working with a contracted HVAC company to rectify the heating issue,” Erica Williams told Chalkbeat. “Unfortunately, it was not resolved today, resulting in school being closed Wednesday. While our goal is to have school as soon as possible, we want to make sure it’s in a comfortable environment for our students.”

The state district was created in 2012 to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools by taking over local schools and giving them to outside charter organizations to run. Shelby County Schools has a crippling amount of deferred maintenance for its school buildings, including those occupied by the state district, that would cost more than $500 million. The Shelby County district prioritizes how to chip away at that huge cost based on how many children are affected, the condition of the building, and the type of repair, spokeswoman Natalia Powers told Chalkbeat, adding that the district has made some major repairs at state-run schools.

But Sharon Griffin, chief of the Achievement School District told Chalkbeat previously that one of her goals is to resolve problems more quickly with Shelby County Schools when a major repair is needed to avoid lost class time.

Still counting

Jeffco bond measure that had been failing pulls ahead in narrow race

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Students work on breathing exercises during a yoga class at the end of the school day at Pennington Elementary School.

Update: Over the weekend, the bond measure pulled ahead and is currently headed toward passage, with 50.3 percent of the vote. We’ll continue to update this post as new results come in.


Vote tallies released Thursday in Jefferson County show that a $567 million bond request is down by just 132 votes, opening up the possibility that it might yet pass.

We previously reported that Jefferson County voters had approved a $33 million local tax increase but turned down the bond request. At midday Wednesday, just 48 percent of voters had said yes. The gap was roughly 7,000 votes, and the trend hadn’t changed since the first returns were posted Tuesday evening. It appeared to mark the second time in two years that Jeffco voters had turned down a request to issue debt to improve school buildings.

But by Thursday evening, with additional ballots counted, the margin by which Jeffco Measure 5B was failing had narrowed significantly. The 132-vote margin is currently within the window that would trigger an automatic recount. A mandatory recount is triggered when the difference is one half of one percent of the number of votes cast for the higher vote count, according to officials from the Secretary of State’s office.

Backers of the tax measures are holding out hope the result could change.

District officials said they plan to use the proceeds of this year’s tax measures to raise teacher pay, increase mental health support for students, beef up school security, expand career and technical education, improve science facilities, add more full-day preschool, and buy classroom materials and technology.

On Wednesday, Katie Winner, a mother of two students in Jeffco schools, told us the two tax measures were closely tied and both equally needed.

“I want to know what voters were thinking,” she said. “I didn’t see one without the other.”

We’ll keep tabs on the counting and update you as soon as we have a final tally.