1,000 throng school board meeting

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Teachers, students, parents comment on teacher raises, full-day kindergarten

By Daniel Laverty

The topics of teacher raises and full-day kindergarten drew 1,000 people to the Jeffco school board meeting last Thursday, leading to more than four hours of public comment.

Because of the fire-safety occupancy limit, more than 400 people were turned away from the meeting, which was held in the auditorium at Bear Creek High School in Lakewood.

Many of the teachers at the meeting spoke out about the need for pay increases and the financial troubles some are experiencing. 

“I’m about to take on my third job,” said Chris Ferguson, a teacher at Conifer High School.

Jeffco teachers have not had a raise in four years.

More than 25 Jeffco students demanded increased compensation for their teachers during public comment. 

“I ask that you consider the effects of your decisions,” student Sabrina Pacha told the board. “Everyone deserves a quality education, and it starts with our teachers.”

“I’m fortunate to have amazing teachers,” said Chaye Gutierrez, another Jeffco student who called for teacher raises. 

In its unofficial budget, the school board has set aside an additional $11.7 million for teacher compensation next school year. The majority of those dollars will fund the district’s contribution to PERA, Colorado’s public employees retirement plan.

Despite a light agenda, last Thursday's meeting, which started after 5:30 p.m., ended after midnight. The overwhelming turnout for public comment also led to a return to the issue of full-day kindergarten, which the board voted against April 3. The $600,000 expansion would establish free full-day kindergarten at schools with 35 percent of students enrolled in free or reduced-cost lunch programs. Children in those schools are currently enrolled in half-day kindergarten.

“I have the ability, on a daily basis, to see what a full day of kindergarten can do,” kindergarten teacher Rachelle Moorhead told the board. “Full-day kindergarten leads to better reading and writing.”

“We know that poverty affects a child’s ability to learn,” said Michele Patterson, the Jeffco PTA president. “We must pay special attention to ensure we can provide that for these students. Don’t steal opportunity from our most vulnerable.”

After the comments, board member Lesley Dahlkemper made a motion to approve the kindergarten expansion. During subsequent discussion, Newkirk explained his reservations.

“I do not dispute the benefits of full-day kindergarten, and I appreciate the offer of expanding it,” Newkirk said. “I’m having a hard time making that decision without making sure it’s equitable for all needy families.”

Newkirk asked staff to create a proposal that was “students-based” and not “ZIP-code-based.” He said there was no need to rush into a decision because the board has until June 30 to approve next school year’s budget.

The motion failed 3-2, with the board's new majority — Ken Witt, Julie Williams and Newkirk — voting against. Jill Fellman and Dahlkemper voted yes.

Contact Daniel Laverty at 303-350-1042 or Daniel@evergreenco.com. Follow Daniel on Twitter @LavertyReports.