FORT COLLINS — A planned walkout by Englewood Schools teachers on Monday to protest on the Capitol steps for more funding doesn’t appear to be an isolated event as the Colorado Education Association (CEA) recently led some to believe.
In fact, according to documents obtained by Complete Colorado, the CEA is planning a well-organized effort to put pressure on the state legislature to address two key pieces of legislation and bring attention to school funding and the Public Employees Retirement Account (PERA).
Two of three events planned in the CEA’s effort could cause disruption at schools across the state, with a detailed plan to demonstrate on school properties Monday and walk out of school on April 27 to demonstrate on the Capitol steps.
CEA told Denver’s Channel 7 reporter Oscar Contreras in a prepared statement that the scheduled Englewood walkout was because “our dedicated Englewood teachers care about your kids more than anything.”
Channel 7 said at the time of its report, Englewood was the only district it knew of that is participating in this “day of action.”
However, details of the full CEA plan were sent to Complete Colorado by a teacher in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, who received what the CEA calls its “tool kit” via district email.
The teacher asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution for making the association documents public, but said it is frustrating to see the Poudre Education Association (PEA) use district resources to organize association activities that will disrupt school days.
In an email to all PEA members, PEA President Tom List said:
“As you’ve heard from your building ARs [Association Representative], there is a state-wide ground swell of desire to protest the state of education in Colorado,” List said. “Working with Association leaders from across the state, we have developed a plan of action to let our legislators, parents and communities know that we are frustrated and fed up with the fact that Colorado’s economy is performing better than most states, yet education funding is at or near the bottom of all states. It is time to take action.”
List also details the plans in this five minute You Tube video.
List did not return requests for comment.
In his email, List explains how to make the most of Monday’s activities: “during your duty-free lunch, organize phone calls, emails and texts to our legislators expressing our views on the PERA bill.”
List also gives specific direction on how to plan for the walkout on April 27, “after school, gather together to input your FLEX day into the district sub system for the next day of action, April 27. We must give our principals and district administration time to make the decisions they need to for that date. If absences are put in on 4/16, we give PSD nine school days to prepare.”
Danielle Clark, executive director of communications for PSD, said the email use was not an issue. Because school emails are open to public inspection, many people solict teachers and staff through email, so the district does not have a policy against the associations using it.
Clark said List has been in contact with the school district frequently to keep them apprised of what the plans are. She said PSD has always had a good relationship with its employee associations and this has been no different. She said the district believes in teachers’ First Amendment rights to advocate on behalf of school funding if they choose so long as it doesn’t disrupt the district.
“We have been very clear this is not a school district thing,” Clark said. “This is the teachers advocating for something they believe in at the state level. We are respecting that and just saying keep it out of the classrooms. Keep it before school and when you come in, it’s business as usual.”
The walk-in event planned for Monday across Fort Collins encourages teachers and other staff across the state to show up for work 30 minutes earlier than usual wearing red. The Colorado Education Association is supplying signs that read “Together We Are Stronger.”
The activities are designed to bring attention to Senate Bill 18-200 “Modifications to PERA Public Employees’ Retirement Association to eliminate unfunded liability,” House Bill 18-1232 New School Funding Distribution Formula, and Initiative 93 or the “Funding for Public School” initiative that is likely to go to voters in November.
Initiative 93 would raise income taxes by .37 percent to 3.62 percent based on net income levels and exempt that collection from Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) regulations. It would add $1.9 billion in new revenue to education funding specifically to fund HB 18-1232.
Some of CEA’s plans for Monday include:
- Take pictures and video to post to social media.
- Wear red.
- Bring coffee and donuts or bagels.
- Keep the message student centered and positive.
- Walk into the building together.
- Ask people to make a call to legislators and sign petitions for Initiative 93.
- Have initiative 93 petitions available for people to sign.
Clark said the school district did limit where petitions could be signed. She said not necessarily because of campaign finance laws as much as because the district is not in the business of collecting signatures. She said teachers have been told that if they plan to circulate petitions Monday morning, it has to be on public property off school grounds.
“While we all agree funding for K-12 education could use a boost,” she said, “We don’t believe it should be happening on school property. We are in the business of educating kids.”
A PSD parent who also asked to remain anonymous because her husband is a teacher in the district said she questions the motive because the tool kit plan also said PEA members should involve the community with the plans and encourage parents to participate, but there has been no public notice.
“The fact they have not reached out to parents or made this public in anyway leads me to believe they are hoping for a shock factor,” she said.
In fact, List’s email leans toward the same conclusion.
“Much logistical work needs to be done to make sure that we don’t lose the support of our parents and community as we take this action,” List said in the email.
The tool kit included a sample agenda, talking points and a speech with sample questions to address about the walk-in leader’s specific school district.
Several other school districts in Northern Colorado are keeping an eye on the situation for their districts, some of which had more advance information than others.
Theresa Myers, director of communications for Greeley-Evans School District 6, said District 6 administration has heard some rumblings but nothing substantial. Nonetheless, it’s something she said they are monitoring closely.
“We’ve been in close contact with the union representative on it,” Myers said about plans for Monday’s demonstration, adding she is in contact with communications officers from districts across the state to stay on top of the situation.
She said there seemed to be more of an effort in District 6 focused on the April 27th walk out date, but it won’t have a direct impact on District 6 students if teachers to participate.
“It is a non-student contact day for us,” she said. “It doesn’t appear to me right now that it’s that organized here, so we’re just in monitoring mode right now.”
In the Loveland/Berthoud/Estes Park areas, Thompson School District Director of Communications Tom Hausmann said he hadn’t heard much of anything concerning his district.
“At this point I don’t have any information on plans from the union,” Hausmann said. “And at the administrative level I don’t have any information on how it’s going to impact us or if it’s even going to at all.”
The St. Vrain Valley School District in the Longmont area was also keeping a close eye.
Kerri McDermid, director of communications said St. Vrain’s first and foremost responsibility is to its students.
“We are looking at that internally to make sure that we have what we need to ensure student safety and the integrity of our learning environment,” McDermid said.