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Pueblo Teachers' Strike Continues

Colorado ranks 40th nationally in per-pupil spending largely because of TABOR, a state constitutional amendment that restricts spending. (Lena Howland/KOAA News 5)
Colorado ranks 40th nationally in per-pupil spending largely because of TABOR, a state constitutional amendment that restricts spending. (Lena Howland/KOAA News 5)
May 9, 2018

PUEBLO, Colo. – Pueblo school teachers won't be heading back to their classrooms Wednesday, as Colorado's first teachers' strike in more than 20 years enters its third day.

Suzanne Ethredge, president of the Pueblo Education Association, says the Pueblo School District can resolve the impasse by raising pay and health benefits as laid out in recommendations by a neutral fact finder.

She says a 2 percent cost-of-living increase may not seem like much, but it's critical for teacher recruitment and to blunt a 20 percent turnover rate, the highest in the state.

"Our Pueblo students deserve quality schools, and that means a highly qualified teacher in every classroom,” Ethredge stresses. “And it's also about having educators be listened to about what works in their buildings for their students."

After mediation efforts, a third-party fact-finder noted the district had managed to find room in its budget to increase pay for other employees, and said the district can absorb modest increases in compensation.

District officials say they can't afford a raise until the state makes up for revenues lost during the Great Recession, and argue that raises for teachers would require money from reserves, which would not be prudent for an ongoing expense.

Ethredge says the district has increased spending in other areas, including a $600,000 boost in business services, and an additional $300,000 for human resources.

She adds that two recently posted administrative positions come with salaries near $80,000 a year.

"But yet they claim there's no money for the people closest to children in classrooms,” she points out. “So, we're watching the choices that are being made, and we're having a really hard time believing that they indeed can't afford it."

Pueblo teachers earn between $35,000 and $70,000 a year, based on experience and education level. The city recently cut back to a four-day school week to reduce costs, joining more than half the state's school districts.

Despite a strong economy, Colorado is ranked 40th nationally in per-pupil spending, largely due to restrictions imposed under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO