Saturday, April 28, 2018

This is what Democracy looks like!

Good morning colleagues! It is a BEA-utiful Saturday morning in Colorado Springs! It is already 63 degrees out, so I'm just itching to go for a walk or hike. It's surprising that I even wanted to get out of bed after a very long day yesterday! But to tell the whole story, I have to go back to last Friday, April 20th.

I'd gone out to eat with friends as we were celebrating someone's birthday. While sitting at BJ's, eating a gluten-free pizookie and watching the Cubs just utterly destroy the Rockies, a friend received a text message - her district will be closed on April 27th for the Colorado educator rally. Recently I've been quite politically active, but this bit of news just flew over my head. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know about this rally as things are happening in the Colorado Legislature that will AFFECT ME as an educator. So as my friend fills us in on the march, and another friend and I look at each other and say, "You in? I'm in."

Monday morning rolls around, and I put in for a personal day on April 27th. I'm even lucky enough that my preferred sub picks up the job quickly! A colleague comes into my classroom to ask if I'm going to the rally on Friday and I smile and say yes. After that conversation, word about the rally spreads among the teachers in my school, and the "situation" begins to escalate. We get an e-mail later in the day asking for teachers to let admin know if they will be gone on Friday. I, of course, told admin that I will be gone and that I have a sub already lined up. The response I received back was not that nice, but I know also stemmed from frustration. It was evident that teachers were talking and were putting in for subs, and not all of the sub positions were getting picked up.

Then, on Tuesday, we get an e-mail from our superintendent. It was not well received. In fact, in an act of situational irony, the e-mail had the exact opposite effect and teachers started taking the day off in droves. It was all that anyone could talk about, and the teachers that I spoke to were irate. Luckily, the next day, the superintendent decided to change the school day to a professional development day for teachers. Across all schools, it would have been "all hands on deck." I heard that there would be classes held in the auditoriums and gyms because there weren't enough teachers, counselors, or administration left to cover. It would have been a waste of a day if there was school.

So yesterday morning my husband and I were able to sleep in (so luxurious!), run some errands, then pick up a friend to drive to Denver. We took the light rail from the south edge to downtown, then walked along 16th Street Mall to Civic Center Park. It was powerful to be on the train and see more and more teachers in red pile on. As we walked along 16th Street, there were teachers in red everywhere!

 The march, from Civic Center Park to the Capitol Hill, started at 1:00 pm. The march was short (too short) but was powerful. We shut down a busy street, but as we marched, many people in cars honked in support! We were near the front, so we ended up on the hill. As we looked back, people kept streaming towards the hill. It was pretty exciting! But around 1:30/1:45, the police reopened the busy street and cut the group of teachers in two. At 2:00, when the rally began, it was evident that the sound system was not up to par for the number of teachers in attendance. It was hard to hear. I found out later that Governor Hickenlooper spoke, but I have no idea when he spoke. I looked back down the hill after 10-15 minutes, and teachers started leaving. It was disappointing that the rally turned out that way, but it was still a powerful experience. As people left, we did move our way forward. We were near the front for the last 20 or so minutes, so we heard some great speakers, saw some hilarious signs, and chanted, clapped, and yelled with the remaining educators!

So why did I march and rally yesterday?
  • Colorado schools are currently underfunded by $822 million and $2,700 below the national average in per pupil funding. Right now, Colorado's economy is #1 in the nation. Why is there such a disparity?
  • Initiative 93: Great Schools Thriving Communities is a bill that will raise $1.6 billion annually in support of public education, while 92% of taxpayers will not see an increase in their taxes.
  • SB 18-200's legislative intent is to improve PERA’s (our pension fund) funded status and lower its overall risk. It will phase-in a 3% increase from the current 8 percent to 11 percent of pay, starting in July 2018. As currently written, the bill would change the retirement eligibility age for all members who are age 46 or younger (i.e., me) as of January 1, 2020, by adding one year to full-service retirement eligibility for every four years less than age 46, not to exceed 65 years of age. At 34 years old, I would have to add three more years to my full-service retirement eligibility. 
Right now, my husband and I are okay. We are living a comfortable life and have enough left over each month to put into savings and retirement (outside of PERA). BUT, the reason that we live a comfortable life is because of two things. 1) We were lucky enough to "win" a house through a HUD program called Good Neighbor Next Door. We were one of the last people to get a house, through this program, in Colorado Springs. We have a low mortgage rate and much more house than we could ever fill. We have been able to improve the property over the last seven years, and now, because of the housing boom along the Front Range, we will be able to walk away with a large amount of money when we sell. But we can't sell because we wouldn't be able to buy another house in town. The market is so hot that houses are selling, sight unseen, in less than 72 hours. We are really, REALLY lucky that we own a house. 2) We've made the conscious decision to not have children. We would be struggling if we did have children. 

Even though we lead this comfortable life, it could easily change by not having our salaries grow each year with the massive rise in the cost of living. It could easily change by our rise in rates for health coverage. It could easily change by having to contribute more to PERA each year, but have a chance that it will run out by the time I retire. 

As I saw on many signs yesterday, you can't put students first if you put teachers last. Thanks for reading... I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

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