Push is on to get initiative on ballot to raise taxes, increase teacher pay

KDVR.com 
By Kristin Haubrich

DENVER -- In the midst of teacher walkouts planned in Colorado, there’s a push to get an initiative on the November ballot that would increase taxes to help fund public education.

Those in support of the initiative say it’s the No. 1 solution to the current teacher shortage and salary shortfalls.

“It’s an embarrassment that Colorado is not attracting and keeping high quality teachers,” retired teacher Phyllis Writz said.

Writz spent three-plus decades in the classroom and now she is fed up with the current state of the education system.

“I never thought I would have to fight to educate people. Since the last eight years, I have come out of retirement to fight this fight,” Writz said.

Her passion for teaching started when she became a home economics teacher at Lakewood High School. She said her salary was well below her peers.

“I lived paycheck to paycheck -- opened up my first credit card because I needed a winter coat,” Writz said.

But now a measure is circulating to raise teacher pay. Initiative 93 would create a tax hike for those who make more than $150,000, generating $1.6 billion annually for schools.

“This initiative is the one thing that can actually raise revenue substantially, sustainable revenue for our teachers,” said Susan Meek communication director for Great Education Colorado.

“It actually takes someone to have about $182,000 in income before they’re going to have any kind of impact. Ninety-two percent of Coloradans would see no impact on their income taxes.”

Meek is part of a nonpartisan education advocacy group. She said teachers rank last in the nation when it comes to earning a competitive wage.

“We have teachers who are leaving the profession because they can make more at Bed, Bath and Beyond,” Meek said.

But not all teachers are dissatisfied with salaries.

“I did not feel that I was being undercompensated, but I sure felt like I worked for every dollar,” said Gail Martin, a retired teacher from Jefferson County.

For Writz, come Thursday, she will be taking part in what she calls a critical movement. She will join thousands of teachers to march to the state Capitol to stand for change.

“It’s our future doctors, our economy our workforce. It’s everybody. It’s us, it’s our future,” Writz said.

Some taxpayers might question why the marijuana tax revenue is not creating a bigger difference to help increase teacher pay.

Meek said the majority of that money is allocated for school construction costs.

“A very small amount of the pot revenue goes into teacher salaries. It’s about $40 million a year that goes into construction. Overall, it’s really just a drop in the bucket and it’s not the solution that many voters thought it would be,” Meek said.

Initiative 93 must be voter-approved. It needs nearly 100,000 signatures by July to make it on the November ballot.

If approved, it would take effect for the 2019-2020 school year.

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