Our View: Give teachers raises, but consider merit
Based on its previous commitment to look at raises again after the Oct. 1 student enrollment account, the Steamboat Springs School District and its Collaborative Bargaining Team should move forward with salary step increases for certified teachers and support staff. But moving forward, the district and its families would be better served by a system that rewards the best teachers and staff through merit pay increases, as opposed to across-the-board raises for everyone.
Raises for the current school year are possible because of an unexpected student enrollment increase that has left the district with $412,000 in excess revenue. That sum, which decreases to about $290,000 when expenses and the restoration of a couple of jobs that had been cut last year are factored in, happens to be just the right amount to give salary step increases to about 240 of the 280 district teachers and support staff members. The other three dozen or so staff members aren’t eligible for salary step increases.
The district, through its Collaborative Bargaining Team, previously negotiated that there wouldn’t be a step increase for employees this year based on the early assumption that enrollment would be flat, or worse, decline. Because Colorado school districts receive funding based on the number of students they enroll, fewer students means less money. However, with 57 more students this year than last, the district now is in a position to fund those step increases, which typically range from $1,000 to $1,800 for certified teachers, depending on their experience and higher education degree.
Not surprisingly, the teachers union wants the excess revenues to be used for salary step raises for teachers and support staff. Teacher reps and School Board officials met Wednesday to discuss the issue.
There is substantial value to rewarding employees with pay increases. Those raises send a good message to staff and have a positive impact on morale. Ideally, the net effect is a better classroom education and experience for students. All employees want opportunity for growth. Employers, when they can, should provide that opportunity.
Provided the pay raises are approved, we hope district staff realizes that bumping up their base salaries — and thus the district’s bottom line personnel expenses — could necessitate additional staff cuts next year should revenues fall. We also hope district staff recognizes what many in the public and private sectors in this community have experienced for several years — forced pay cuts, diminished hours and, in some cases, loss of work. Steamboat Springs School District staff is yet to experience a salary freeze, let alone a cut.
Our challenge to the school district is to focus time and energy on a merit pay system that rewards the best staff members instead of all staff members. It’s not a new concept in public education, or even the Steamboat school district. A previous attempt at creating a merit-based pay system was declared unaffordable by a previous School Board after several years of work were put into it.
If the school district wants to recruit and retain the very best staff, it needs to be empowered to do so. Operating more like the private sector, where good employees are rewarded without the obligation to do the same for low-performing employees, would represent a substantial step in the right direction. So although teachers and staff should be given their salary step increases this year, the long-term answer to building an even stronger public school district requires rejecting the status quo and creating a system in which the best and brightest are rewarded for their accomplishments in the classroom, not just because they’re logging another year as an employee.
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