A group of bus drivers from across Jefferson County, who were joined in the room by JESPA members from many professions, spoke with the school board about the education funding crisis and how it is affecting Education Support Professionals and our students.
Monte Hollander spoke for the group. An excerpt of his speech is below:
The time has come to decide what kind of Colorado we want. Education has been under attack for decades and we are continually being asked to do more with less. There is no question that everyone in this room wants the very best for both students and staff. However, the reality is that many of our ESP and other staff are forced to work 2 or more jobs to make ends meet. We are tired, we need your help, we need our local Jeffco school board to flex their collective muscle and join us this spring in applying pressure on our state legislators to resolve this situation.
We are burned out and tired, we have nothing left to give. When we are not well, our students are not well. What we need is your help to draw attention to the grim reality of what TABOR has done to our state. Again, we can do better Colorado!
Our beautiful state ranks at the top for economic success, yet we are 42nd in the nation for average per-pupil funding. I am here speaking for my myself and my ESP colleagues which include custodians-who clean, kitchen staff-who feed, security staff-who protect, bus drivers and assistants-who transport students to school and back home, by the way, we are truly the first and last daily responders for our children. In addition, we have mechanics-that keep our buses safe, and mustn’t forget our indispensable maintenance staff-who fix our faulty toilets, groom our grounds, keep the lights on, cool and heat our buildings, and ensure there’s no lead in the water. Finally, we must not forget our paraprofessionals, teaching staff, and administrators who keep our kids engaged and learning.
We are ready
to take action to increase pay statewide. The many challenges we face daily, including
mental health stressors, the increasing cost of health care, and the ridiculous
cost of living in the Denver area. Unfortunately, our pay is not keeping pace
with all of these challenges.
Here in Jeffco our pay is not keeping pace with surrounding districts for bus drivers, food service workers, custodians, and paraeducators. As a result, we are at a crisis point with understaffing. When we are short-staffed we simply can’t deliver quality services to our students.
As far as transportation goes, Jeffco is ranked 8th in the state below Douglas County (the third-largest school district), Adams 12, and Denver (the largest school district) with top pay going to our direct neighbor to the north Westminster coming in at $2.10 more per hour. This is shameful given that Jeffco is the second largest district in Colorado.
Here in Colorado our funding priorities are upside down in that we continue to dole out corporate tax breaks while continuing to underfund our schools. The average citizen does not understand the gravity of what is happening. It is shameful that a state as beautiful and economically successful as ours is not prioritizing students and their futures. My understanding per early projections coming out of the capitol is that the state budget is allocating $540 million to fixing potholes and only $40 million to our dear children and their education.
The state of education in Colorado is clear. Without bold action from the legislature, schools will not be able to provide students the education they deserve. We need you to join us in what is best for our students. We cannot give them a great education without prioritizing our human resources. In education, the humans doing the work are our most precious resources! And the ones benefiting from the work are our most precious commodity – our students.
So, can we count on you, Jeffco Board of Education, Dr. Glass, Cabinet and Chiefs? Will you stand with us to demand that our state put its money where its mouth is?