By Mark Ackerman

STERLING, Colo. (CBS4) – This week teachers from across Colorado are walking out of school and rallying at the state Capitol to protest a lack of school funding.

Teacher Samantha Fennell (credit: CBS)

In the northeast corner of the state, 124 miles away, Samantha Fennell teaches kindergarten at Ayres Elementary School in Sterling, where teachers earn 26 percent below the state average.

“I wanted the small town feel,” said Fennell, who moved from the Front Range to the Eastern Plains.

On the day CBS4 visited, she was teaching her 21 students how to read.

“I love working with kids,” she said. “Grown-ups can get a little iffy sometimes.”

(credit: CBS)

After four years of teaching in the RE-1 Valley School District, Fennell earns $31,229. She hasn’t received a raise since she was hired.

“The first two years it was kind of disheartening,” she said, “It was hard to keep trucking through.”

Teachers generally don’t get promotions. Instead, they build their salaries little-by-little, one step at a time.

(credit: CBS)

A rookie teacher in the RE-1 Valley school district in Sterling makes $29,793. After 10 steps, of about $700 each, she can expect to make $36,256. In most school districts, a step equals a year. But, Fennell has been locked in at Step 3 since she started.

“The dream would be to have children and raise them here in Sterling, where I love to teach,” she said. “But, the reality right now I can’t. There is no way I can afford it.”

With student loans of about $25,000 lumped on top, even in Sterling, it’s tough to make it work.

(credit: CBS)

“Our cost of living is similar to the Front Range. I can’t afford to buy a house or invest in my community,” she said.

Fennell takes on additional responsibilities to make more money including tutoring and summer school. She says some teachers in Sterling are waiting tables after work, or moonlighting as janitors.

RE-1 Valley Superintendent Jan DeLay says something needs to change.

“I go to Home Depot and one of my math teachers is helping me on a Saturday,” she said. “He’s there because he’s working there.”

The district has gone to a four-day week to cut down on bus and facility costs. The low salaries also lead to teacher turnover and vacancies. Long-term subs without teaching degrees are used to plug holes when a more qualified teacher can’t be found. Sterling voters shot down tax increases two years in a row.

Superintendent Jan DeLay (credit: CBS)

“The inequity of compensation for these teachers is just wrong,” she said. “The quality of a child’s education in the State of Colorado should not depend on where they live.”

Yet somehow amidst the cuts, RE-1 Valley is making progress on the Colorado Department of Education’s school district performance framework. In a town where many parents don’t have a college degree, kids are going to college and succeeding.

Instead of protesting at the Capitol with their colleagues from around the State Friday, teachers in Sterling will walk out of school and protest locally at the Logan County courthouse. They plan to circulate petitions asking citizens to put a statewide initiative on the ballot to raise taxes for school funding.

(credit: CBS)

Lee Fetters, who teaches middle school English Teacher, is leading the effort.

“I would like them to know that this isn’t an us versus them, “Fetters said. “We are in Colorado, we are all in this together.”

Fennell said she wants her contribution to be valued.

“I take my job very seriously,” Fennell said. “It’s a kick in the face when it is not seen as important as somebody else’s job.”

Despite her pay freeze, she spends between $500 and $800 every year on school supplies, doing anything to give her students an advantage.

“It’s a big deal to be helping raise someone else’s children and educating them,” she said.

Friday night at 10 p.m. CBS4 will take you to the Boulder Valley School District, which pays teachers the most in Colorado — roughly double what teachers are making in Sterling.

Click here to see an interactive map to with data on how teachers are paid where you live.

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

Comments (11)
  1. Joe Wysocki says:

    funny all those benefits and they make about 40 percent more than an average taxpayer with all those sick days and free college, and holidays and our kiddies dont even know what the constitution is. I dont owe you a pension either, welcome to the world Trump want more tax cuts and the swamp wants no part or it who are mostly democrats and your sick safe zones that put our kids at risk no pity here,

  2. John Bradley says:

    The wingnuts are more interested in getting high than providing their children with a quality education. Millions for draft picks but nothing for educators?? At a minimum, exempt teachers from state and federal income taxes….

  3. Paul Howard says:

    Most teachers could earn much more doing something else. The love teaching and really want to help the kids. Enough is enough though. Do you REALLY think your kid gets the best teachers by underpaying them. What you get is high turnover and overworked teachers. To say that YOU worked 2 or 3 jobs for a while doens’t say ANYTHING about the entire teaching staff of a country. They do it for their entire lives.
    And, paying a reasonable wage shouldn’t fall on local taxpayers either. Tax the corporations that benefit most from an educated population. If they want educated workers let them pay for the education.
    #GoTeachers #Teachers #PayTeachers

  4. Guess what – a lot of people work two or three jobs to get by. I worked a night factory job (48 hours per week), and days in a slaughterhouse for several years, and before that roofed houses during the day while working a night job at another factory. Why do teachers seem to think they’re a special class? Sure their job is important. Sure their job is hard.Everyone else’s is too. Stop whining.

  5. Bryan Thomas says:

    Summers off. Every holiday off. Spring break. Winter break. Yes I would have a 2nd job also. You say yes to a $27k job, that’s on you. You have $25k in student loans, that’s on you.

  6. RJ Ferry says:

    If they want teachers to come to these low paying rural areas, the least they can do is pay their student loans in return for a 4 year promise to stay.

  7. if you are making $31,229 per year that is roughly $2,600 to $2,700 per month…if its only you…ok lets work this out…maybe $800 for rent, $300 to $400 for groceries, $200 to $250 for utilities, $70 for internet, car payment of $300, insurance for car maybe $25 to $35 saved aside per month, and lets say being generous $100 for beauty salon visits per month?(not a woman so a rough guess.) So on the low side all together your spending $1805 out of the $2,600 you are getting per month. Leaving you with $795.

    ok they said student loan payment…so lets say $200 to $250 off per month..leaving you with a grand total of $595 to save every month. yup not getting paid enough.(can’t buy fast food then, can’t go out to the bar every night with the ladies or buy lots of wine..though Whining is free..its a joke people.) If you budget your money and live frugally then you could probably have even more than the near $600 per month…that is pretty damn good salary and is easy to save for a future.

    If you then get married to a man/woman and live again frugally then you could save together both on taxes and cost of living. meaning you could easily afford kids and take nice vacation or save quickly for their university..etc. Can’t live on $2600 per month…boo freaking hooo…its called being entitled…you think you should be able to party like the business ladies do who make 3 times as much as you do, you think you should be able to go to every concert that comes along…drink the best wines…heck go for wine country tours…etc…again if you think you deserve to be able to do all of that…your entitled and not living in reality.

    Sure you can’t do much at first…but if you save…omg a dirty word in this day and age…then you could actual do those things. Time for everyone to stop playing adult-children roles and start putting on their big girl and boy pants and face that life is about working hard, saving and then getting what you want to enjoy as the fruits of your years of work. Worked for previous generations…still works now.

    1. Kent Wright says:

      spot on mr . jack!!!!

      The median income for a household in the city was $27,337, and the median income for a family was $39,103. Males had a median income of $27,921 versus $20,508 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,287.

      303 Cortez St,
      Sterling, CO 80751
      3 beds 2 baths 1,198 sqft
      FOR SALE
      Zestimate®: $133,660

    2. Bob Sanders says:

      Not spot on.

      Believe it or not government workers actually have to pay taxes too. Her bracket is at 12% currently for federal taxes or $313 per month. Running off your own estimates of $595 to save per month, that $282 left for savings. State tax is 4.63% or $114 a month leaving $168 a month for saving.

      What about gas? That isn’t free. I spend about $60-80 a month just for my car. Down to $88 per month for savings.

      Didn’t include cell phone. Lots of people have those especially if you live out in the sticks. Mine’s about $80 per month. Down to $8 per month in savings.

      Lots of teachers are forced to buy supplies for their classrooms. What if a facet breaks in her house or she gets a flat tire?

      And how dare she want to have children. That’s a frugal expense.

      Teachers have been underpaid in this country for far too long.

      1. Don’t use real math on people who prefer to create their own universe. Your analysis is more realistic, of course. But the same people who believe their own labor is priceless and would curse your entire family if you asked them why they don’t have adequate savings will happily count someone else’s nickels.

  8. What ever happened to Marijuana solving All of our education problems. Taxes from Marijuana is suppose to go to schools. I have not heard anything about how much marijuana tax is going to school or has that been forgotten. With all the taxes and money people are making on marijuana why can’t we meet the teachers needs this way.

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