Salaries, col­lege debt, num­ber of pos­si­ble re­tirees are prob­lems ad­min­is­tra­tors face.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Monte Wha­ley

FORT COLLINS» Colorado can do a lot of things, big and small, to end a mas­sive K-12 teacher short­age, in­clud­ing re­spect­ing and help­ing peo­ple work­ing in the state’s class­rooms, of­fi­cials learned at a town hall meet­ing Fri­day.

About 50 lo­cal teach­ers, ad­min­is­tra­tors, school board mem­bers and res­i­dents echoed that no­tion dur­ing a meet­ing Fri­day on the Colorado State Univer­sity cam­pus, or­ga­nized by state ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials to gather ideas that dis­tricts can use to tackle the short­fall of teach­ers.

Cer­tainly, salaries are a prob­lem. First-year teach­ers in some ru­ral dis­tricts earn about $25,000 a year.

“When you are mak­ing that much, and fac­ing col­lege debt any­where from $100,000 to $250,000, you are go­ing to think twice about go­ing into teach­ing,” said Robert Mitchell, di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tor prepa­ra­tion for the Colorado Depart­ment of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

An­other fac­tor that con­trib­utes to the short­age is the per­cep­tion that teach­ers are not pro­fes­sion­als, at least on the same level as doc­tors or lawyers, said Rob Eberle, an 18-year class­room vet­eran with the Thomp­son School District in Love­land.

“Out­side of this room, we are not seen as pro­fes­sion­als,” said Eberle, who called on state ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials to ham­mer home the mes­sage that teach­ers are not just em­ploy­ees.

“It’s im­por­tant that teach­ers are heard and that we have a place at the ta­ble,” Eberle said. “We need a con­sis­tent voice say­ing to ev­ery­one that we are pro­fes­sion­als. Un­for­tu­nately, there is a seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion that spends a great deal of time bash­ing pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.”

“They don’t bash doc­tors or lawyers, but we are be­ing tar­geted,” Eberle said.

As many as 3,000 more teach­ers are needed to lead class­rooms across the state, with ru­ral dis­tricts be­ing hit es­pe­cially hard, Mitchell said.

Not only are col­lege grad­u­ates shy­ing away from teach­ing, but nearly 30 per­cent of the state’s teach­ers are re­tire­ment age, data show.

“One school district in the north­east cor­ner of the state had zero ap­pli­cants for an el­e­men­tary teacher po­si­tion,” Mitchell said. “What we have been do­ing in the past (to re­cruit and re­tain teach­ers) is not sus­tain­able.”

Mitchell’s agency is team­ing up with the Colorado Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to host a se­ries of town hall ses­sions through­out the state. The groups plan to cre­ate a pro­gram to stem the flight of teach­ers

from the class­room and to get more young peo­ple in­ter­ested in teach­ing.

A town hall is sched­uled Mon­day from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Cherry Creek School District, 5416 S. Riviera Way in Cen­ten­nial. A day later in Den­ver, a town hall is slated at from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the Mile High United Way CoBank Lead­er­ship Cen­ter, 711 Park Ave. W.

Other town halls are sched­uled for Li­mon, Otis, Colorado Springs and Las An­i­mas in Au­gust.

The groups are sched­uled to fin­ish their ac­tion plan by Dec. 1 and present it to state law­mak­ers next year.

Top­ics dis­cussed Fri­day in­cluded a statewide, uni­form salary sched­ule, bet­ter men­tor­ing for new teach­ers, and a re­search-based cur­ricu­lum that all teach­ers can rely on.

Colorado is leak­ing teach­ers to other states that of­fer bet­ter salaries and ben­e­fits, par­tic­i­pants at Fri­day’s town hall meet­ing said. One ed­u­ca­tor said teach­ers in north­ern Colorado are mov­ing across the state line to Wy­oming to au­to­mat­i­cally get a pay raise of at least $10,000 a year.

Oth­ers said teach­ers need more sup­port from ad­min­is­tra­tors, some of whom have not been in the class­room for years. “If you’re in the build­ing, you have to teach at least 20 per­cent of the time,” Eberle rec­om­mended. “If you have been out of the sys­tem for so long, you lose sight of what’s re­ally go­ing on in the class­room.”

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