The first thing you notice about Barbara Clementi and Carole Partin is that gorgeous silver hair. (Pictures just don’t do it justice.) But listen to the retired Pueblo County, Colo. teachers talk, and it’s clear that their fervor for ensuring that all students have the opportunity for a great education is just as unforgettable as their sparkling manes.
“Retirement” in the traditional sense of the word just isn’t for them. Yet they don’t want to do anything full time. So they approach post-retirement activism as a twosome, sharing the responsibilities and “subbing in” when one or the other needed a break.
Recently, they were named to Pueblo County’s marijuana licensing board, quite possibly making them the first teachers anywhere to serve on this kind of panel.
Now let’s get something straight at the outset: They always taught their middle-school students to steer clear of drugs and alcohol, and that is still their message. However, they are pragmatists. When Coloradans voted in 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over and Pueblo County decided to allow growing, cultivating, and selling marijuana, the friends wanted to make sure public education would benefit from the revenue. That meant having a voice on the licensing board.
Colorado schools are desperate for resources. Since voters in 1992 passed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the most restrictive tax and spending limitation in the nation, funding for schools has plummeted. Within a decade of adopting the law, Colorado dropped from 35th in the country to 49th in spending on K-12 education as a percentage of personal income. Higher education funding dropped by 31 percent since 1992.
Given those losses, the tax revenue from legalization of marijuana “is the biggest boon to business we’ve seen in this county for probably 20 years or more,” Carole says. “If we don’t get on the bandwagon now, we may never see it.”
Actually there’s such pent-up demand for funding, the bandwagon is actually more like a freight train that stretches as far down the tracks as the eye can see. They’ve got their work cut out for them. Not only are there competing priorities; there’s also a misconception that all the revenue from the taxes on marijuana sales is supporting public education. Don’t they wish.
It’s true that a chunk of revenue is for the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today program. But it’s a competitive program, and the grants can only be used for construction and renovation, not operating costs. The fund won’t buy books or raise educators’ salaries.
“We’ve not had raises in this district for four years,” says Barbara. “Teachers are buying their own supplies. We have an incredibly high poverty rate here, and nearly 70 percent of our kids get free or reduced-price lunch. We have needs in our schools and classrooms right now.”
In 2015, voters in Pueblo County decided to spend proceeds of the marijuana special tax on scholarships for any student who graduates from a county high school and attends a local college. That’s a great start, but Carole wants to direct even more proceeds to classrooms and teachers.
Aside from the licensing board, the dynamic duo is involved in campaigns for ballot initiatives and candidates that will support public education. They also are active in protecting retirement security.
In addition, Barbara in 2015 was elected as an at-large member of the Pueblo City Schools Board of Education, and Carole was part of her campaign. Carole ran for the Colorado House of Representatives in 2010, and while she did not win, Barbara was actively involved.
Barbara represents the southern part of the state on the Retired Representative Council for the Colorado Education Association (CEA), and she chaired the host committee for the NEA Representative Assembly in Denver in 2014; Carole was a committee chair.
Barbara is also a coach for the NEA Foundation’s Institute for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, helping build collaborations between local unions and school district management. Carole is a former president of the local CEA affiliate and is now president of the Pueblo Retired Educators Group.
“We realized a long time ago that in order for us to make difference in teaching, we had to get involved in our local union,” says Carole.
Barbara adds that activism “is really the only voice you have as a citizen. “We see how important activism is to public education, to the foundation of democracy in our communities, and how much we have lost when we, as citizens, haven’t been active.”
Barbara and Carole say they’d be happy to share their approach to activism with other NEA retired members. After all, getting two for the price of one is a bargain. And with these two, it’s a bonus.