BYERS - A big problem in small towns like Byers is finding and keeping teachers.
"When you're trying to raise a family on a starting salary of $33,000 a year and the average home price out here is pushing $300,000," Tom Turrell, superintendent of the Byers school district, said. "It's difficult to attract just because of salary."
This is an issue in school districts across the state, especially rural ones. The Colorado Department of Education and the Department of Higher Education are teaming up to host a series of town hall meetings to discuss the teacher shortage in Colorado.
"We're definitely in crisis mode," Robert Mitchell, said. "We're very much over the cliff. The question is how hard are we gonna hit the bottom."
Mitchell is the director of educator preparation for the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
"We've seen a decline in our enrollment and people interested in education programs in our colleges and universities," Mitchell said. "We see a decline in the number of people completing these programs."
He says the first step is to meet with people in districts all around the state to find solutions to the teacher shortage.
"We have some ideas here, but we want to get as many voices as we can," Mitchell said. "Our next step is saying alright, we have the shortages. Let's put together an action plan to resolve this issue. It's not just enough to say hey we know these are shortages. The next step is let's fix this problem."
In Byers, Turrell tries to attract and retain teachers by offering a teacher housing program. The district owns apartments and a home to offer to teachers for rent as low as $200.
"The point of it is, is to get them out here," Turrell said. "They can start to save money and hopefully have a good experience in Byers School District, look at the area, find a house, build a house."
The Colorado Department of Education studied teacher salaries and turnover. Looking the numbers, in most small, rural school districts around the state, teachers are vastly underpaid with average salaries ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 below the cost of living in each respective county.
"We talk to the Department of Higher Education and the number of candidates that are coming out are minimal," Turrell said.
The state will hold its first town hall meeting in Ridgway from 3-4:30 p.m. at Ridgway School District, Eagle's Nest Room, 1115 Clinton St., Ridgway. The next meeting will be in Parachute at from 3-4:30 p.m. at Grand Valley High School, 800 Cardinal Way, Parachute.
For those who cannot make the meetings, the state will also gather information through an online survey. If you want to take the survey or see the full schedule of town hall meetings, click here: http://bit.ly/2s7Rti1.
"We're gonna present all this to the legislature. It's up to them to take the next step and say alright and so here's what we've seen. Here's what our communities need to do," Mitchell said.
Turrell hopes an answer will be found with a good plan to execute it.
"I don't know what the solution is. I know the superintendents have gotten together and we've been discussing different funding formulas and how to rework those funding formulas," Turrell said.
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