Teachers from Montezuma-Cortez school district are conducting a series of neighborhood walks in support of a proposed tax to pay for buses, computers and salary increases.
Kemper Elementary School staff members took their walk on Saturday. Cortez Middle School’s walk is Saturday, Oct. 7, and Montezuma-Cortez High School’s walk is Oct. 14. Teachers and friends meet at 9 a.m. at the schools.
If approved by voters in the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District, the mill levy override would raise about $2.7 million in 2018. During the walks, teachers share their stories of the need for safe and reliable buses, new and quality technology, and salaries that attract and retain teachers.
The proposed override will be on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election, according to Kim Percell, Montezuma County clerk and recorder.
Ballots will be mailed to all active eligible registered electors the week of Oct. 16.
Mesa and Manaugh elementary schools held walks the past two Saturdays.
Roxanne Stevens, a teacher at Mesa Elementary, has been walking with other teachers. The override must reach 3,000 votes to be passed.
“I feel like the more teachers we have there, the better chance we have to pass the mill levy,” Stevens said. “It was really nice to have conversations with families about what we are trying to do.”
The walks were organized by the Cortez Education Association.
According to Stevens, the Cortez Education Association completed a study to find out who, in a certain radius, met criteria and would be open to hearing from teachers. In addition to going door to door, the teachers are branching out and talking to the community.
“I was really scared at first,” Stevens said. “But I got more comfortable, and last week I would approach someone mowing their lawn or a guy uncovering his Harley. I just walked up to him to start talking just to get that information out there and get them voting.”
The ballot question asks whether the school board should be authorized to raise and spend additional property tax revenues “to provide additional funds for the district’s general operating expense.”
The school board’s mill levy resolution focuses on higher salaries for teachers and staff, and bus and technology improvements.
According to district Superintendent Lori Haukeness, the district has 20 buses, nine of which exceed the recommended 300,000 miles.
“Our bus fleet is much older and has higher mileage than the national standards,” she said in a board meeting in August, adding, “They are wearing out.”
The mill levy override also would be used to recruit and retain qualified teachers and staff by increasing salaries.
According to Laurie Austin, sixth-grade teacher at Cortez Middle School, district teacher turnover is more than 20 percent per year, and teacher turnover at Cortez Middle School is nearly 40 percent. Starting teacher salaries in the district are 12 percent below regional starting teacher salaries, and average teacher salaries in the district are 13 percent below the regional average and 27 percent below the state average.
In addition, the override would be used to replace, maintain and expand current technology to support learning in the classrooms.
“We need infrastructure behind the wall that needs to be updated so our students can have one-to-one devices,” Haukeness told the school board. “Every one of our students deserves the opportunity to have that technology in their hands for instruction.”
The teachers met at Kemper Elementary School for this Saturday’s walk, with an excellent turnout according to Laurie Austin, sixth-grade teacher at Cortez Middle School.
For more information about the walks, contact your local school. For more information about the mill levy override, contact Matt Keefauver at 970-739-8085.
Emily Rice contributed to this article.