A bipartisan measure intended to help fill teaching and other staff positions in Colorado's rural school districts recently advanced in the state House.
House Bill 1176 would allow retired teachers and other school employees, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers, to return to work on a full-time basis without facing a reduction in their retirement benefits. Presently, retired school workers may only work up to 140 days out of the 180-day school year without a reduction in their Public Employees' Retirement Association — or PERA — benefits.
Colorado's rural school districts are facing a shortage of teachers, "with some positions going unfilled for five years or more," according to a news release from the Colorado House Democrats. Of the state's 178 school districts, 147 are classified as rural.
The measure drew support from state Rep. Kimmi Lewis, R-Las Animas County. Her House District 64 incudes a number of rural areas, including Elbert County.
"I am pleased to see House Bill 1176 pass committee with such strong bipartisan support. Helping rural schools fill vacancies in the classroom is critical in my area," Lewis said. "Retired teachers should be able to work in the classroom without time restrictions and I look forward to helping Rep. Becker get this important bill to the governor’s desk."
Elizabeth School District Superintendent Douglas Bissonette has high hopes for the legislation.
"This bill would be a lifesaver for rural schools and students," he said. "Teacher shortages, low wages and high turnover... are symptomatic of a broken school funding system. The bill begins to address a portion of the failing funding system, and students will be the ultimate beneficiaries."
School employees may be hired under the bill in districts designated as rural that determine there is a "critical shortage of qualified employees and that the retiree possesses unique skills or qualifications needed by the district," a summary of the bill states.
HB 1176 is sponsored by state Reps. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan. It is intended to help districts that have "gone through every other avenue to find a teacher and haven't been able to," McLachlan said.
The bill passed the House Finance Committee on an 11-1 vote March 15 and was sent to the Appropriations Committee. If it can garner full approval in the House, it will be sent to the Senate.
"Retired teachers willing to get back into the classroom can be an invaluable asset to schools struggling to find quality educators," Becker said. "This legislation simply modifies Colorado's laws to ensure retired teachers, bus drivers and food service personnel will be able to work full time in the rural districts that need their help."