The parking lot at East High School was empty Monday, and there were no kids on the playground at Heritage Elementary during lunch recess. Both schools experienced "excessively high numbers of teacher call offs" prompting district officials to cancel school at the two campuses.
Members of Pueblo’s teacher’s union have called for a strike in 2 weeks after the District 6 Board of Education rejected a 2 percent cost of living increase and an extra health plan contribution.
The additional money would cost the district roughly $2 million.
"Two million dollars is still what we don’t have," said board president Barb Clementy. "You can’t pay what you don’t have."
She said the majority of school board members believe the district cannot keep dipping into savings to pay for ongoing expenses like salaries and benefits.
She points out that D-60 wouldn’t be in such bad shape if state lawmakers hadn’t underfunded schools since the Great Recession. Voters passed
Amendment 23 in the 2000 election stipulated that per-pupil spending must increase by the rate of inflation plus 1 percent for the first decade, and then increase with inflation every year after. When lawmakers failed to meet the spending requirements in order to balance the budget, they kept track of the difference by calling it the negative factor.
"District 60, over the last 10 years, has been affected by that negative factor by about $18 million a year," Clementi said.
Lawmakers are poised to shrink the negative factor this legislative cycle. State Rep. Daneya Esgar points out that K-12 funding will receive an additional $150 million in this budget cycle (roughly $469 per pupil) to pay down the size of the negative factor.
"I want to make sure that the teachers know that hear them and we stand with them and we’re working on figuring out a way to make sure that the schools that have been going without are corrected and are finding ways to be funded," Esgar said.
The new money won’t close the gap completely, and D60 still has demographic problems to consider.
Clementi noted that enrollment is declining by about 300 children a year and the County’s population is aging in general. School-aged children make up approximately 15 percent of Pueblo County’s 165,000 residents compared to the 22 percent national average. That could explain why efforts to pass property tax increases in District 60 have failed in recent years.
Clementi joined a campaign for a statewide ballot initiative called Initiative 93. It would create a new graduated income tax on people earning $150,000 or more with all of the revenue being dedicated to schools.
The initiative has cleared the title board and circulators are in the process of trying to collect the roughly 98,000 needed to place the measure on the November ballot. Clementi estimates that the new tax could generate up to $28 million a year in new revenue for her school district.