Around Durango, boxes for school-supply donations signal it’s time for students to open the notebooks, fire up calculators and see classmates they’ve missed over the summer.
Durango School District 9-R is fortunate to have a variety of partners – Manna, the city, our Parent Teacher Organization, the La Plata Family Center Coalition, Walmart, and other stores and private organizations – happy to help equip students, and collect and distribute supplies.
Any child in need of supplies will receive them, no worries. 9-R will make sure of that. It’s helpful, too, that schools have significantly reduced school supply lists.
Supplies do, though, remind us that some community members feel districts should cover 100% of all school-related costs.
This would be impossible. Colorado funds its schools below the national average. Teacher salaries have not matched the rising cost of housing or wage growth in other sectors. And hands are tied with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, with money over a cap returned to taxpayers, rather than going into school budgets to hire and retain teachers.
Forget about taxpayer-funded colored pencils.
This is just one possible conversation starter as you meet candidates for 9-R’s Board of Education in your neighborhoods and at meet-and-greets, asking for your signatures and endorsements. We’d like to flip this – ask candidates how they will support our students and schools. This means 9-R’s deeply held values, one being inclusive of all students and their families.
Now is the time to pay attention and ask probing questions. Voters want to know exactly what they’re getting in helping candidates land seats.
In a previous era, school board seats were not so sought after. Certainly not political. In our post-pandemic cultural climate, it’s a different story. In other Colorado communities, school districts and boards have been sideswiped by lawsuits, including in Woodland Park last week. The Colorado state teachers union and its Woodland Park affiliate sued the Woodland Park School District and board of education for allegedly violating teachers’ First Amendment rights to free speech and free association, as well as open meeting laws. The lawsuit says a revised policy put a gag order on teachers.
This is just one of Woodland Park’s troubles worth mentioning.
Separately, in June, the Boulder Valley School District reached a $32,000 tentative settlement in a discrimination lawsuit after a white family sued the district for “unfair and selectively enforced disciplinary processes, and other discrimination on the basis of race.” In January, a fourth grade white boy told two Black students to “be his servants and bodyguards,” according to court records. A principal determined the comment to be discriminatory.
There’s something here to untangle. Bring it up. What do candidates think?
Press them about their positions on sex education, pandemic restrictions, banned books, housing for teachers, their knowledge of social-emotional competencies in students, mental health staffing, four-day school weeks, charters, special education and individualized education programs. Whatever it is that matters to voters.
Don’t be shy – interrogate. Imagine a naked light bulb dangling over a school board candidate’s head as you make inquiries that could make a difference in the trajectory of 9-R. What would you like to see for our students?
Equally important, what do teachers need?
Karla Sluis, 9-R’s public information officer, provided a “bird’s-eye perspective, not day-to-day needs” list for teachers. Sluis also said, “Disclaimer that I’m not a teacher, but I’m a daughter of one and a mom of a soon-to-be one.”
Some subjects to get conversations flowing.
Affordable housing for teachers; higher pay, support from school leaders; partnerships with families, a clear district vision; community engagement; and belief in public education.
Sluis said teachers also need “an endless cup of coffee and more lesson-planning time.”
If community members get earnest answers from candidates, consider the vetting successful. We’ll have a good idea what to expect in our next 9-R school board.
Two seats are open with board President Kristin Smith, representing District B, and board member Katie Stewart, District D, up for reelection. Nomination petitions must be filed by Sept. 1. Election Day is Nov. 7, will include mail-in ballots, and be administered by La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee.