On Monday, Dec. 18, Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D-Colorado) and Sen. Cleave Simpson (R-Colorado) will visit the Mancos School District from 3-5 p.m. to visit and learn more about the district.
According to Mancos Superintendent Todd Cordrey, the officials will be meeting with just the Mancos District while in Southwest Colorado.
“We’ll give them a tour of the school district, to show them all the great stuff we’re doing and to celebrate the successes,” Cordrey shared. “They’ll also meet with the Board to talk about the Board of Education priorities for the upcoming legislative session.”
Rep. McLachlan is one of 65 Colorado representatives, and Sen. Simpson is one of 35 senators. The bi-partisan visit shows that both sides are equally concerned about education in Colorado, according to Cordrey.
“He’s a Republican and she’s a Democrat,” Cordrey said. “We’re very happy to have both of them. They’re both strong education advocates, and we’re just excited that they’re willing to give their time to be with us.”
McLachlan is a retired educator from the Durango School District, and education has been something she has advocated for in the Colorado House of Representatives.
She will not be re-running for representative, so she has been providing districts with information about what she anticipates will take place during the upcoming legislative session, Cordrey said.
At the Colorado Association of School Boards retreat last weekend, Mancos Board member Victor Figueroa met with McLachlan, and she was invited to visit the district.
Cordrey also shared that a month or so ago, he reached out to Sen. Simpson.
“I reached out to start a relationship with him and to learn from him about what his priorities are as a senator in our area, and then also to share with him Mancos School District’s priorities from the state legislature,” he said. “Sen. Simpson and I spoke for about an hour on Zoom and had a really good conversation.”
After McLachlan accepted the invitation to visit the district, Cordrey invited Simpson, who also accepted.
The district has three initiatives they will share with Sen. Simpson and Rep. McLachlan. The first is staff pay.
“We request a carve-out within the Colorado School Finance Act that will specifically and consistently address the small, rural, remote factor. We need a specific provision written into the Colorado School Finance Act that addresses funding to pay for staff salaries. Currently, when comparing the starting salary from the highest and lowest paying rural districts, Mancos falls in the middle at $34,000. In addition, two neighboring, and larger districts, are able to pay $50,000-54,000 for starting salaries. At about $20,000 less, the Mancos RE-6 salary base is not acceptable to recruit and retain teachers. Because of this, salary increases are our number one priority,” the letter to the two said.
“The first priority is to provide specific funding for small, remote school districts, so to provide specific funding for small remote rural school districts in Colorado so that we could compete with larger districts and with New Mexico for teacher and staff compensation, because currently, our compensation of what we pay our teaching staff is about 20,000 less than New Mexico or Durango,” Cordrey said. “It's also not healthy for our school district, not to have adequate funds to appropriately pay teachers and other staff members.”
The second priority outlined by the district addresses mental health concerns for students.
“We are struggling with a small percentage of students who have intense mental health issues and/or disabilities that manifest in severe behavioral and emotional outbursts. These behaviors put students and staff safety at risk. Since we are a small rural district, we have less resources and/or programs to meet the needs of our students, staff and families,” the district said.
Cordrey shared some students are struggling and the district doesn’t have what it needs to adequately help these students.
“We have students that are experiencing severe behavioral and emotional state situations and we would like to see the state government really focus in on the psychological and mental well-being of students,” Cordrey shared. “We're seeing, and other school districts in the state and in the region, are experiencing a significant uptick in students that are that are struggling with their mental and psychological well-being. So, we're hoping that the state legislature and can support, craft and support a bill that will support the well-being of our students.”
The last ask on the list of priorities addressed state debt.
“The governor is committed to paying off the long-standing debt owed to Colorado students in the form of the Budget Stabilization Factor (BSF). The General Assembly, in the 2023-2024 School Finance Act, included language to fully buy-down the BSF in the upcoming fiscal year. We ask for your support of a full buy-down of the BSF in the upcoming year,” the Board stated.
Cordrey explained how the debt was accumulated and how it could be rectified.
“About 14 years ago, they started something called the Budget Stabilization Factor and it gave them the right to not fully fund school education in the state of Colorado. As a result, the state of Colorado has shorted public education $10 billion in the last 14 years,” Cordrey said. “So, for the first time since then, the governor has put forward the budget for the upcoming school year, where the School Finance Act would be fully funded for the first time in about 14 years. We're asking Rep. McLaughlin and Sen. Simpson to support the full funding of the School Finance Act.”
Cordrey said he, the Board and the District are grateful to have Sen. Simpson and Rep. McLachlan visit.
“We're really fortunate to have both. I think it's very clear that education funding is a state's imperative, and I think that's proven with a visit from a Democrat and a Republican, both of them fully supporting appropriate education funding. We’re honored to be able to share with them the successes we're having as a school district, and also to elevate the success of our students. It's just an honor for us to be able to share the successes of our students with our state leaders,” Cordrey finished.