An Open Letter to JeffCo Parents and The Community-
My name is a Dale Munholland and for the past 20 years it has been my distinct honor and pleasure to be a high school social studies teacher in Jefferson County Schools. I wanted to take a few minutes to explain to you why I, and thousands of other JeffCo educators, won’t be coming into school on April 26th.
Next Thursday, JeffCo School employees have decided to take a day of action to stand up for our students, our classrooms, our schools and our profession. The vast majority of educators are choosing to take a personal while others are choosing to give up a day’s pay in order to protect public education and ask state legislators to adequately fund education as they are legally bound to do.
Educators did NOT take this action lightly. Much thought and deliberation went into this decision. This is an action I would rather not have to take. I, as would all other JeffCo educators, would much rather be in the classroom with our students working and learning. However, the time has come that we must stand up and demand education in this state be funded and maintained so that we can do our job and our students, your kids, receive the very best education. Our students deserve nothing short of that.
There are a myriad of issues swirling at this time that we will look to address as we leave our classrooms for a day in exchange for a field trip to the state capital. All of these issues are focused on providing the best education for our students. We will be urging our legislators to preserve and stabilize PERA. PERA is the pension plan that most many state and public employees pay into, including state judges, state troopers and public-school teachers. We do not pay into Social Security. For many of us our retirement IS PERA because we are not eligible for Social Security. If PERA is further destabilized or outright destroyed any hope of retiring is destroyed with it. Such an action would have devastating effects within our classrooms and education in general. Teachers do not go into education to make money, if that were their main goal they would choose to pursue a career in the private sector. However, one of the trade offs and selling points for young college graduates to go into education is the pension they will receive at some point. Should PERA be significantly altered, the ripple effect would be immediate and damaging. Many young, early career educators would leave education to pursue a career in the private sector. Young students, still in college studying for a career in public education, would begin change their course of education and pursue a different career. Older teachers would begin to leave the classroom in hopes of getting their PERA benefits before the system is so destabilized that it collapses. Colorado already has a teacher shortage and is finding it difficult to attract people to the field of education. If PERA is altered in such a way that it threatens the future of the pension it will demoralize current educators and repel prospective future educators, thus reducing the quality of the instruction that our students, your kids are receiving. For this reason, I will not be in my classroom on the 26th and will instead spend my day at the Capitol, standing up for public education and my students.
Educators will also be going to the State Capitol next week, to put pressure on the state legislature to begin funding school districts at the level that Colorado is legally obligated to do. In 2000, voters passed Amendment 23 which required the state to fund education at the rate of inflation plus 1%. In 2009, politicians being politicians, found a way around this law. They created the “Negative Factor”, now commonly referred to as the “Budget Stabilization” Factor (more commonly called the BS Factor). This allowed the state legislature to cut the amount of funding it was legally obligated to provide to school districts by essentially writing an IOU to districts. For instance, if a school district is due $20 million from the state, the state will say ‘we will pay you $13 million instead and then we will owe you the remaining $7 million and we will add that to what we were supposed to pay you last year.’ For the past 8 years the state has continued to add to the BS Factor. The state now owes schools districts over $4 BILLION!!!!!! Of which almost $700 million is owed to JeffCo Schools!!!!!!!! This is money that would be used on repairing school buildings, buying new computers, replacing outdated textbooks, replacing dilapidated desks, installing new playground equipment, upgrading heating and air conditioning systems, as well as increasing compensation for employees.
Colorado has one of the strongest, most robust economies in the country and the time has come for the state legislature to stop adding to the BS factor and begin paying it down. Over half of the school districts in Colorado only have school 4 days a week because they don’t have enough money to operate for the normal 5 days. Textbooks are held together with duct tape because schools can’t buy new ones. Technology in many schools would be modern if this were 1999. Some schools have to stop making copies at the end of April because there is not enough money in the school budget to make any more copies. Teacher pay is among the lowest in the nation. Teachers never went into education to be rich, but none expected to take a vow of poverty either. If we are going to address the growing educator shortage, compensation and other education spending must be increased. For this reason, I will not be in my classroom on the 26th and will instead spend my day at the Capitol, standing up for public education and my students. My students, your kids deserve better.
It is my sincerest hope that you as community members and parents understand this is not an action of whiny teachers are brainwashed by the “evil teacher union thugs” but is an action fighting for our students, our classrooms, our schools, our profession as well as the future of our communities, our state and indeed our nation. I sincerely hope you will stand with the educators in JeffCo and tell the state legislature “NO MORE! SUPPORT EDUCATION NOW!” My students, my children, your children deserve better.