In advance of 2021 School Board elections in Jefferson County, Coloradans for the Common Good (CCG) assembled over 300 people at Trinity Presbyterian Church for a non-partisan candidate accountability session. All six school board candidates were asked "yes or no" in regard to increasing wages for education support professionals and increasing access to healthy food.
All six candidates said yes. After the election, CCG worked alongside member institution Jeffco Education Support Professional Association (JESPA) to hold the recently elected candidates accountable to their commitment. The work resulted in higher wages for school workers and healthier food options for Jeffco students. Andrea Cisneros, a leader with JESPA and CCG, tells the story of how it happened:
“Some parents got ahold of our union and asked us how to get better food that’s more culturally relevant to what they eat at home....”
“Parents were upset and didn't know what steps to take. They joined us and the Coloradans for the Common Good, … and, together, we set up a game plan.” JESPA [Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association] is a member of Coloradans for the Common Good, a broad-based organization comprised of over 30 local institutions, including congregations, unions, non-profits, and neighborhood organizations, committed to the common good of all people.
The game plan was to grow their network of support among the community, partner with groups familiar with farm-to-table approaches, visit other districts that were serving healthy foods, and push their elected officials or any candidate running for office, at the time, to publicly support JESPA’s efforts.
JESPA ... successfully negotiated a pilot program that will replace junk food and highly processed prepackaged food with healthier, scratch-cooked options. Plus, menu creation will include parent and student voices and will have more culturally relevant options. The pilot will start in three schools: an elementary, middle, and high school.
While the menu is still in progress, Cisneros hopes to serve quesadillas, enchiladas, or homemade burritos, instead of frozen burritos in a packet.
“We realized that we have more power together, … and we couldn’t have done this without the support from our parents and community,” she adds.
[Photo Credit: NEA Today]
In response to calls for change by their workers and Coloradans for the Common Good, the Jefferson County School Board approved a $3/hr increase to the minimum wage of all Educational Support Professionals (ESP). Nearby, the Denver Federation ratified a contract that increases the minimum wage to $20/hr for para-educators and over $18/hr for nutrition employees. This equates to tens of millions of dollars for working families in the metro area, and required coordinated action between unionized educators and Coloradans for the Common Good.
Last fall, CCG leaders organized an accountability assembly, leveraging commitments from every JeffCo School Board candidate at the time to support wage increases for ESPs if elected. When it became clear more pressure was needed, leaders returned to the JeffCo Board this spring.
At the same time, CCG organized a rally at Valdez Elementary with over 350 educators, parents, and community members to push for wage increases in Denver Public Schools (DPS). Leaders soon followed up with a press conference where the DPS Board President, Vice President, and an additional school board member committed to increasing wages.
[Photo Credits: (Top) Olivia Sun, Colorado Sun; (Right) Helen Richardson, The Denver Post]
Coloradans for the Common Good Calls on City & County to Invest Recovery Funds in Housing Preservation & Affordability
Several organizations, including Coloradans for the Common Good, have met with Arvada and Jefferson County leaders for many years to discuss the need to address the affordable housing crisis in the region, they said.
“Our message is that they cannot just rely on the faith communities and nonprofits to solve this problem,” according to a press release from Coloradans for the Common Good. “Government agencies have a role to help ensure that everyone has a safe roof over their heads.”
City of Arvada and Jefferson County leaders recently received more than $120 million in stimulus payments from the federal government, and Coloradans for the Common Good and their allies are asking elected officials to put a substantial sum of the money toward preserving and expanding affordable housing, so that the trend does not continue in the community.
[Photo Credit: Olivia Sun, Colorado Sun]
"I have seen firsthand how this accountability system targets neighborhood schools and our students of color,” said Germaine Padberg-Ludlow, a Denver elementary teacher and member of Coloradans for the Common Good, a coalition of community, union and faith groups supporting the audit.
Padberg-Ludlow previously taught at Denver’s John Amesse Elementary School, which was closed and then reopened with new leadership over the objections of parents and teachers. At the time, Denver Public Schools had its own rating system and a more aggressive school closure process than required by state law. She said the system drives teacher turnover, forcing students to build new relationships and widening achievement gaps.
[Photo credits: Nathan W. Armes, Chalkbeat, left; Coloradans for the Common Good,right]
Colorado School Accountability Audit Moves Forward, Chalkbeat [pdf]
Led by Coloradans for the Common Good, the organizations convened virtually last week, concerned primarily about the roadblocks that stand in the way of families being able to fully access the meals that Jeffco Public Schools has been distributing this fall. Problems with scheduling and transportation mean some kids and their family members may be going hungry.
“Our schools, for better or worse, have become a central part of our social safety net, and our social safety net is already deeply frayed in our country,” said Reagan Humber, a member of the group’s steering committee and pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. “And so kids are depending even more on that food.”
Members of Coloradans for the Common Good worry that the district doesn’t operate enough distribution sites across communities so that all families in need can pick up food nearby, including those who are limited by transportation. They’re just as concerned that the sites don’t offer the kind of flexible hours that cater to families’ schedules.
Humber would like to see Jeffco Public Schools bus food across the community, noting that drivers have agreed to transport meals to students so that they don’t have to walk miles to pick up food. He is also urging the district to ensure a school in every town it serves offers meal distribution and that every neighborhood serving a population of students who attend a Title I school has nearby access to school meals.
[Photo Credit: Brandan Robertson/Colorado Sun]
'Coloradans for the Common Good' & Allies Leverage $20M for Digital Infrastructure, Say More is Needed
After 'Coloradans for the Common Good' and educator union leaders engaged their membership around the impact of the digital divide on teachers and students, they organized virtual summits to publicize what they learned and to begin to build a constituency for change.
Behind the scenes, state lawmakers began crafting legislation to address some of those frustrations, ultimately passing a bill that will provide $20 million in grants for districts to broaden internet access to their students. The monies are part of a state stimulus package developed in a special legislative session.
At its third virtual summit on the subject, the short-term stimulus was announced and celebrated. However, CCG leaders understand that the grants won’t ensure every young Coloradan has reliable access to the internet and plan to continue working for longer-term support.
[Photo Credit: Valerie Mosley/Colorado Sun]
Access to Remote Learning a Challenge in Rural Communities, Colorado Springs Indy [pdf]