It's official. Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 schools will return to the five-day school week format beginning next fall.
Tuesday night, Re-1 school board members Diane Fox, Beth Howell and Pete Montano backed the current four-day week, saying the district needs consistency, but Brian Demby, Tim Lanier, Jack Schuenemeyer and Eric Whyte maintained that instructional time and student achievement need attention and the five-day week is better suited to those needs.
After the 4-3 vote, many of the 60 people in attendance expressed their disapproval by walking out.
Demby, the board treasurer, said both sides had good arguments.
“This isn't a simple decision,” said Demby. “The poll was an opinion poll. It wasn't based on data, and we tend to pick what's fun and easy and not always what's best in the long term. Our standardized test scores are a crisis, and I personally think we need to increase our student teacher contact time. I believe we can do that best with the five-day school week.”
“We don't have all the answers,” said board president Tim Lanier. “It's not fun sitting up here and having to look at all this, but it's time to move on. We're not jumping up and down with joy.”
Teachers said the board has not considered the challenges they face in the classroom.
Justine Bayles told the board that, as a teacher and a parent, everything she does is for her children.
“Not only do I have my four children, I have 96 children that I see everyday.”
Bayles, who teaches at Cortez Middle School, and said there are four stakeholders in education: teachers, students, parents and the community. Of those four groups, she said, only teachers are assessed and evaluated.
“We have the student who is low achieving,” Bayles said. “Let's look at the attendance and discipline. When we see a parent of a student that is low achieving, let's ask them, ‘How much time have you spent with your children reading?' When you look at the community, let's ask them, ‘What have you done to stimulate the economy of this area to make sure we keep the parents of the children.”
Bayles said she will stay because she loves working in education.
“We are doing our part and we are working so very hard, every single day,” she said. “When all of these seasoned teachers here tonight leave because they cannot be paid, because their experience is undervalued, and you hire someone next year straight out of college and they make the same amount as me because I was hired four years ago and my salary was frozen, I'm going to stay here because I love my children, and I love your children.”
Rancher/farmer and former district teacher Randy Carver said this decision should have nothing to do with teacher's compensation. He spoke for the five-day week based on educational support.
“I'm panicked; I know the struggles you've been going through,” Carver told teachers at the meeting. “But you can't combine the two problems. It's of paramount importance to have as much educational time as possible and it needs to be repetitive, it can't be just the number of hours in the day.”
Fox said that the four-day week was implemented to save money and not to be a perk for anyone in the school community.
“We have saved money and we continue to save money, but I think it has become a perk and I'm not against that,” Fox said. “We can't offer you anything else.”
Fox said that during her three years on the board, she has seen no information about the four-day week that alarms her.
“In the 15 years that I worked at the high school, we've had five principals and seven assistant principals,” said Fox, who has worked as a school resource officer. She said more change will only complicate matters.
“The middle school has high marks due to its stability and strong good leadership,” she said.
“The data is up and down,” Fox said. “As I said last week, I think responsibility for education in this district starts with this board right here. I know how hard teachers work. I feel your pain.”
“I understand the issues that the parents aren't involved, if they're not there, then students are not going to achieve no matter what we do at these tables.”
Board vice-president Jack Schuenemeyer said the four-day week is just not working and could have prolonged damaging results.
“If in two or three years we lose accreditation, then everyone in this community will be affected,” he said. “The problem is a flawed system that doesn't enable teachers to do their best. I've spent 50 years of my life as a student or a teacher, and 10 hours a day does not lead to quality education.”
The board raised the possibility of increasing teacher's salaries with a mill levy.
Pete Montano, who voted to keep the four-day week, said it would be hard to get a pay increase without a return to the five-day plan.
“The only way we're going to get any funding to increase our teachers salary is going to come from the locals,” Montano said.
“From the comments I got from talking with a great amount of people, going for a mill levy on a four-day week just would not pass,” Schuenemeyer said. “We all know teachers work incredibly hard, but it's just that perception that people have here: ‘You only work four days a week? I work five days a week and I haven't had a raise.'”
Schuenemeyer said he believed the schedule change will improve the schools' image.
“I think we'll be able to go to the community and say, ‘Look, we have some really dedicated teachers and they just absolutely have to have a raise,' and I think we can generate community support for that,” he said. “I'm optimistic in spite of the challenges. ”
Reach Brandon Mathis at firstname.lastname@example.org.