Aspen teachers will stay in class amid Denver protests
Aspen School District faculty will largely stay on campus later this week while thousands of their counterparts around the state will descend on the Capitol in Denver to demand more funding for public education.
A protest is planned Friday, with over two dozen districts in the state canceling classes so teachers can actively participate. The educators want to send a direct message to lawmakers that more money must be extracted from the state budget for education funding, and teacher pensions ought to be protected. Colorado ranks as one of the lowest in the country for school funding and teacher pay.
Evan OBranovic, an officer for the Aspen Education Association, which represents faculty and staff at ASD, said some educators will take personal days and attend the protest as local representatives.
The vast majority, however, will remain here and classes will be in session.
“It was hard to fathom organizing a walk-out,” OBranovic said, adding the district wanted to be respectful of students, parents and the community.
He said the main impetus for the widespread demonstration is that the state underfunds schools by $822 million annually, which is a shortfall of over $2,000 per pupil. The Aspen community has stepped up to close that gap a little by approving property tax increases. As a result, teachers will see about a 5 percent increase in salaries for the 2018-19 school year.
But that pales in comparison to the need, said Marnie White, music teacher at Aspen Elementary, who plans on participating in the protest.
“The support from our community is terrific for our education and school but that’s not enough,” she said. “This is a critical moment.”
District employees are being asked to stage a “walk-in” at 7:30 a.m. Friday in front of the middle school to show solidarity. It’s similar to what between 40 and 50 faculty members did when a similar protest in Denver occurred last week.
On April 16, ASD staff members, who donned red clothing for the statewide campaign “Red for Ed,” gathered in front of the campus flagpole and walked into their schools as a symbolic gesture for the hundreds at the Capitol that Monday.
“We support the topics and action on the state level,” OBranovic said of the thousands expected to show up in unison Friday.
He added that he wants faculty members to record video messages asking lawmakers to rectify the woeful state-funding situation. Those clips will be sent either through local representatives or the Colorado Education Association.
Educators also are monitoring the PERA reform bill, SB 18-200, which could harm teacher pensions. But OBranovic said amendments made to the bill took out the most damaging parts.
“We are in favor of those amendments but we need to watch it,” he said.
While the Summit School District is canceling classes, Roaring Fork School District teachers in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs will be in their classrooms with students Friday. Teachers there are planning a rally Thursday at 5:15 p.m. at the school district office in Glenwood Springs.
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A recent survey of Aspen residents shows that people are happy here, feel safe but are financially insecure.