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Colorado teacher shortage edges crisis in rural towns

Dept. of Education held a town hall in Limon
Posted at 6:36 PM, Aug 18, 2017

LIMON, Colo. -- The teacher shortage in Colorado is only getting worse, especially in rural towns like Limon.

"We're not here to convince you there's a teacher shortage in Colorado," said Mary Bivens with the Department of Higher Education while talking to a group of educators during a town hall on the Eastern Plains.

The department of higher education held its tenth town hall in Limon Friday and heard from more than a dozen educators on ways to attract more teachers.

"How do you teach 34 kids a foreign language, difficult -- but there were more kids then there were seats in the rooms so there's kids on the floor," said one educator from Elizabeth.

"More of that bureaucracy comes in and rules without any kind of common sense, that's what I think wears people down," said another educator.

Lawmakers passed a bill last year that mandated the town hall meetings to hear from educators, principals, parents and administrators on ways to improve public education and fix the teacher shortage.

The Department of Education said it will use feedback from these town halls to generate a report to lawmakers by the end of the year.

"Rural areas have always talked about the challenge in filling positions, but before they were talking about that we only had two people apply, and now they're talking about 'we've had nobody apply all year,'" explained Bivens.

"When there's a teacher shortage, well it’s a sellers' market so the teacher gets to choose where they want to go and Idalia isn't high on that list," said Idalia Superintendent Tim Krause.

Krause's district serves about 200 students and is near the Kansas Border.

He said finding qualified teachers right now is nearly impossible and points to a recent 3rd grade position they had open.

"Everybody loves 3rd graders, there old enough that they don't really cry much -- and they're young enough that they still just love their teachers, it's a fun, fun group to teach; we had one applicant," said Krause.

Once you do find a teacher, Krause said keeping them is even harder.

"Institutionalized the idea of getting young people in and marrying them to a local and then they'll stick around," he joked.

Low pay is also a huge part of the problem that Denver7 asked Governor John Hickenlooper about Thursday.

"Salary's a huge issue, you have some districts who's [sic] starting salary is $24,000 a year," said Bivens.

Until we do find a solution, Krause said Colorado's kids, and especially those in rural communities, are the ones losing.

"Colorado seems to be slipping behind the eight ball, we seem to be falling back a little bit more every year," he said.

The numbers also show fewer students are interested in majoring in education, down six percent in 2014-2015 at Colorado Universities.

The Department of Education also estimates there about 100 vacant teacher positions across the state. In addition, about a third of Colorado educators will be eligible for retirement over the next five years.