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Teachers in Campo School District working double duty to make ends meet

Teachers in Campo School District work double duty to make ends meet
Teachers in Campo School District work double duty to make ends meet 02:50

Hiring and retaining teachers remains a major challenge for school districts across the state, especially in the smaller, more rural districts.  

In Campo, Colorado, located near the state's border with Oklahoma and New Mexico, the problem is even more amplified. 

The Campo School District has over 40 students, all of whom go to one school in town. There are even fewer teachers, who often have secondary incomes to help pay the bills.  

"I would be a much better teacher if I wasn't doing a whole lot of other work," said Sabra Sowell-Lovejoy. "It would make a big difference in how much time I had to plan and prepare and grade." 

During the first period at the Campo School, Sowell-Lovejoy teaches students in a district 30 minutes away over Zoom. 

An hour later, kids from her town receive their own history lesson as well. It's just the start of a typical, jam-packed day teaching multiple grades. 

"There's blessings in a really small school," Sowell-Lovejoy said. "There's a lot of opportunities that we can provide.  


Lovejoy, who has a terminal degree, also faces big challenges teaching in the small district, including making ends meet. That's the reason why years ago, she started growing produce to sell, driving the school bus and raising sheep. 

"I make $33,000 a year, and that's just not enough," she said. "I'm a widow with two kids, so we just have to make that extra income."

While housing is affordable in Baca County, just about everything else is expensive because of how isolated the area is. 

With her secondary income, Lovejoy says she makes enough to pay the bills, but not much more.  

"The idea that you have a professional license, and you still don't make enough money, I think is a problem," Sowell-Lovejoy said. "We know we have huge teacher shortages, and that is not going to change if we cannot pay teachers enough of a salary to pay their bills." 

As one of the state's smallest districts, the starting salary in Campo is just under $30,000 which makes hiring and retaining staff a struggle.  

"Last year, advertising, we got no applications," said Nikki Johnson, superintendent of Campo School District RE-6.  

According to Johnson, the focus now is to develop rather than recruit staff, but more funding could change things. The district has been able to acquire grant money, but it's not enough to make changes in staff pay.  

"The board would really love to be able to change that and we're hoping finances will let us do that soon, but right now with state funding the way it is, we have to do everything with what we get," Johnson said.  

Robert Mitchell, who guest teaches in Campo, says the district isn't alone. He's also an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs who studies school funding across the world.  

"As Colorado, we continue to lag in this," Mitchell said. "It's going to be a continuing problem until we get to a problem where we have nobody left."  

Mitchell believes the state needs creative solutions for the sake of students and the health of small towns. One thing he points to is a minimum teacher salary law passed this year in New Mexico.  

"We can't have an A-plus education in Colorado if we fund it at a D- level and that's what we're doing, especially in our rural areas," he said.  

Back in Campo, Sowell-Lovejoy loves her side hustle, but for many colleagues, it's not a sustainable life.


"Our numbers have dwindled, and largely it's because people can't make a living, so they move away," she said.  

With retirement on the horizon, a big decision now looms - stay with the students she loves or pay the bills.           

"My concern, beyond myself, is that our rural schools will disappear," Sowell-Lovejoy said. "Once they disappear, they're also the hub of the community, so a lot of these small communities will also disappear." 

Sowell-Lovejoy said her older son worked with the state legislature last year on a bill that would create a minimum wage for teachers across the state. The effort was unsuccessful. 

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