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(Editor note: Heather Cuellar’s was misquoted in the previous issue in the School Board article. Here are her comments in full.)

Speaking as both a parent and a teacher, I am extremely concerned with our STAAR scores and what they imply with regards to our students’ education. Are we preparing our students for success and will they be competitive once they leave us and are pitted against students from other districts for scholarships, grades, or jobs? If STAAR scores are any indication, then we have cause for alarm here in Comanche.

I believe that we need to make it a top priority to find ways to INCREASE what we pay above state base… not decrease it or drop it all together. Now, I know that it may seem counterintuitive to do this, and some may even feel that we would be rewarding poor performance. Some might also argue that dropping down to paying the new state minimum would still be more than teachers are currently making, which is true. We also have the issue of how to maintain those salaries IF they are no longer funded by the state in two years. All valid concerns.

But here is my concern: we already have a real problem with attracting high quality applicants. It is not uncommon for us to post a job opening at the high school and get only two, one, or even NO applicants for our teaching positions. If we are forced to make do with whatever live body walks in our doors, the outcome of that can be less than desirable. But when we do get lucky enough to attract a good, high-quality teacher, we are then faced with a whole new secondary battle: how do we keep them? What are we offering them to ensure that they WANT to stay with us and invest in our students and our community for the long haul? Currently, according to our website, we offer “salaries based on the state base plus a $2,400 local supplement”. Yet that is all too often not enough to entice a sufficient pool of applicants to allow us to be choosy. It scares me to think of what it will do to our future ability to attract quality teachers if we drop that local contribution and begin offering only the bare minimum.

And as for those of us who are long-term teachers, well-rooted and fully vested, what message does it send to us if we drop or decrease the amount that the local district contributes? And all while simultaneously building a multi-million-dollar dome, no less? I would ask you this: Do the optics of those two choices bare witness to where our true priorities as a district lie? I hope not. If so, I fear we will lose even more of our long-term, veteran teachers to districts or other jobs where they feel more appreciated and can better realize their worth.

I know that sustainability is a real concern. If the state funding dries up in the future, I would ask that we cross that bridge when, and if, that happens. We could go into this with full disclosure to all district employees that if the state funding for these raises ever ceases, there may have to be some difficult decisions made in the future about decreasing local pay contributions. But decreasing them now feels unnecessarily preemptive and very much like a slap in the face and a clear statement about our worth to this district.

I moved to Comanche from Orange County, California during my freshman year of high school and I thought I fell off the planet. I had no idea dirt roads still existed outside of Little House on the Prairie and planned to get out of here as soon as I could. But then I grew to love this place. I love Comanche, claim it as my hometown, and know that Texas is easily the best state in the union. I have loved raising my children here, and I have loved our school district and all we offer to our students, despite our limited numbers and limited finances. This decision could really change that perception for me. It’s not about $2400 to me. It’s about messaging; it’s about priorities; and it’s about doing what’s right and what’s best for our district.

**note: the local stipend has actually been $2900 for the last several years, not $2400, but that portion of the website has not been updated to accurately reflect that.**

Heather Cuellar, Comanche

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