On the November ballot, Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 will ask voters to approve a mill levy override for three purposes: bus replacement, up-to-date technology and raising teacher salaries.
All three needs are obvious.
Buses are a safety issue. Several buses in the RE-1 fleet have exceeded the age and/or mileage at which national standards recommend replacement. No one’s vehicle runs forever, and at some mileage, restoring a bus to reliability and safety is less cost-effective than buying a new one. Voters understand that. Likewise, voters don’t want local students to fall behind on the technology they will use in higher education and on the job site. Let’s not hinder them and their teachers by failing to invest.
In an area where many people struggle to earn a living wage, raises for teachers may be more controversial, but that’s looking at the issue from the wrong direction.
RE-1 must compete with other districts for teachers. When its salaries are lower than those in other communities, three problems result: Teachers leave the district for higher-paying positions elsewhere; those who apply to replace them also can apply to those districts; and sometimes, teaching positions cannot be filled. RE-1 may never be able to pay teachers as much as they would earn in resort towns or affluent Front Range communities, but the district has to do better than it has. The only way it can is for taxpayers to step up.
Living in a beautiful area simply is not an adequate incentive, especially for teachers who do not earn enough to pay off their student loans.
Cortez has other deficits, including a lack of good jobs for spouses who also might earn more money elsewhere. For those who do love the area, Durango, where teacher salaries are much higher, is just a carpool ride away.
The basic issue is simple economics. Not enough new teachers are entering the field to replace those who retire or leave for other occupations. That creates a seller’s market for highly qualified educators, who can command higher pay than they currently can earn here, and even less experienced teachers often have several job offers. The district must be able to attract and keep good teachers, and paying them well is an important means to that goal.
The money that will cost will be money well spent.