New contract gives Steamboat teachers two-years of raises up front |

New contract gives Steamboat teachers two-years of raises up front

The deal makes the district's budget for next year unbalanced

The Steamboat Springs Board of Education approved a new, two-year contract that gives school staff two years worth of raises up front on Monday, June 13, despite the deal resulting in an unbalanced budget for next year.

The move does come with some financial risk for the district, but board members said it was necessary to address teacher retention amid housing woes locally and surging inflation across the nation.

“We are dipping into our reserves a significant amount to fund this budget and that’s not a sustainable practice,” said Board President Katy Lee. “I personally support it only because of our current circumstances making staff retention a priority over minimizing financial risks.”

Licensed staff, such as teachers, will receive an 8.3% raise, bringing the district’s base salary up to $48,750 a year. Those eligible for a step increase on the pay scale would receive an additional 2.4% bump.

Steamboat voters approved a ballot measure to boost teacher pay in 2019 and the district had a goal of getting starting teacher pay to at least $50,000 a year. At the time, starting teacher pay was $37,681 a year.

Classified staff like paraprofessionals — a position the district has struggled to keep filled all school year — get a $4.28 an hour raise, which depending on their current salary, amounts to between a 13% and 26% increase.

The agreement has been put together through a series of bargaining meetings that started in January between district representatives and the Steamboat Springs Education Association, which represents about 70% of teachers and other school staff. Of 175 SSEA members that voted, 169 of them approved the new contract.

The two-year pact breaks from the norm of one-year agreements that the district and union have signed in the last decade, but it is not unprecedented. Because the new contract is front loaded and extends to 2024, there will not be an additional increase next spring.

In an interview last month, prior to the two sides agreeing to the deal, Superintendent Brad Meeks said a two-year deal gives consistency for both staff and the district.

“With the stability of a two-year deal, you know as an employee, here’s what my wage is going to be,” Meeks said. “Negotiations take an inordinate amount of time and resources and if we can come up with a two-year deal, I think it helps everybody.”

But the total package comes with a hefty $2.7 million price tag, a number that District Finance Manager Stephanie Juneau said would require the use of $1.7 million in reserves in the upcoming fiscal year’s budget. About 81.5% of the general fund pays for payroll.

The district’s general fund will reduce to $6.4 million next year, which represents about 15% of the total spent from that fund. This year will end with about $8.1 million in reserves, which is about 22% of expenses, Juneau said.

“This really decreases us far below, both on a percentage basis and a real-dollar basis, a fund balance in the general fund much lower than the district has had in a long time,” Juneau told the board on Monday.

While the 2022-2023 budget is unbalanced, Juneau said she has a plan to ensure that doesn’t become a trend.

The two-year deal means the district’s expenses should remain relatively constant in 2023-2024 as well, leaving the district with the same $1.7 million to cover in that budget that reserves are paying for this year. Juneau said she anticipates the school finance formula from the legislature will increase school funding next year by some degree.

This year, that increase amounted to an additional $1.3 million in revenue, Juneau said, and she expects to be at least that much again next year. If that increase isn’t enough to cover the full $1.7 million, Juneau said she would hold back a transfer of money out of the general fund to ensure a balanced budget.

“My recommendation would be to reduce the transfer from the general fund to the capital reserve fund as much as we need to — all the way down to zero — so that in fiscal year 2024 we are representing a balanced budget,” Juneau said. “We need to have a plan for fiscal year 2024 to at a minimum keep the fund balanced (at $6.4 million) and at best we can actually start adding back to it.”

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