October 2011

Community steps up to help RE-1 teachers

By Gail Binkly

Teachers in Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 have gone without pay raises for four years, have had to take two furlough days this year, and are buying more and more classroom supplies out of their own pockets.

But a Cortez woman is spearheading an effort to take a little of the financial pressure off educators.

Last spring, Judy Schuenemeyer launched Montezuma County Loves Its Kids and Teachers, an informal project to find donors to provide supplies and funding for specific needs.

Schuenemeyer and her husband, Jack, know a number of teachers and decided it wasn’t fair that they were shouldering so much of the burden of the school district’s budget woes. “Our teachers aren’t that well-paid compared to the rest of the state and country to begin with,” Schuenemeyer said.

“This community is generous when they know there’s a good cause and there’s something they can do that’s specific. The response has been tremendous.”

After clearing her project with the school board and administration, she met with principals and handed out a form on which teachers could list their classroom needs and wishes. So far close to 40 teachers have responded.

Schuenemeyer thought that church groups and businesses would then step up to help fulfill those needs, which they did in droves. What she hadn’t anticipated was that a number of individuals would come forward as well.

Educators’ requests have included supplies such as notebooks, composition books, scissors, pencils, paper and binders. One teacher is seeking funds to take his kids on a field trip to Mesa Verde and to the La Plata Mountains to study geology and minerals. Others have asked for nutritious snacks for children. Some elementary-school teachers are seeking volunteers to help kids one-on-one with reading.

Matt Keefauver, a fourth-grade teacher at Kemper, said Schuenemeyer’s effort is “a perfect example” of how the c ommu n i t y can step forward to help schools. “I have things now that I didn’t have before, like pencil-top erasers that I didn’t have to buy out of my own pocket,” he said.

Re-1 Superintendent Stacy Houser said the project is a boon but not a solution to the funding problem.

“Judy’s effort has been to offset some of the impact from the lessening of the supply budget and that has really helped a lot and we’re grateful to the community, but it’s not a remedy,” he said.

Schuenemeyer agreed, saying the funding situation is “awful.”

She noted that the last new school built in the district was the high school, in the 1960s, although there have been improvements to the middle school.

“People before us weren’t rich – this has never been a rich community – but they made sacrifices to get schools built,” she said.

“Somebody paid for all of us to go to school. We have to invest in schools for the future.

“In the meantime, we need to help the teachers and the kids with what we can.”