Pay plan waits |

Pay plan waits

Alternative system for school district still in limbo

— Two years after pulling the plug on an alternative compensation plan for teachers and staff, Steamboat Springs School District officials and teachers still don’t appear ready to revisit the issue.

Last week, School Board members decided to postpone talks about an alternative pay system until the 2007-08 school year. An alternative pay system remains part of the district’s overall strategic plan.

District teachers, support staff members and administrators spent several years creating the Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay system, which aimed to recruit and retain high-quality teachers and support staff by paying them based on their performance in the classroom. In most school systems, including Steamboat’s, teachers are paid based on their level of college education and how many years they’ve taught.

But the district’s ability to afford KSBP became an issue after an independent financial audit predicted it would cost the school system $600,000 a year for the first 10 years to implement KSBP. In May 2004, the School Board adopted a resolution declaring KSBP unaffordable, particularly because it lacked a mechanism to control the number of teachers who could advance to the highest levels of its pay scale.

The School Board’s decision eventually led to a grievance filed by the Steamboat Springs Education Association. That grievance led to a lawsuit, which recently was settled out of court with no financial or punitive measures.

Despite its decision, the School Board directed Superintendent Donna Howell to continue working with employees to refine KSBP’s evaluation system. The board’s resolution also asked Howell to explore other models of alternative compensation, such as salary add-ons.

More than two years later, little progress has been made.

“We haven’t heard from the teachers’ side of things,” School Board member Jeff Troeger said. “As far as I know, we could come back to it if we get feedback from teachers.”

Mike Smith, a Steamboat Springs High School math teacher who worked extensively on the KSBP plan, said he isn’t sure he wants to go through the process again. Smith said he lost valuable time with students while working on KSBP.

“Historically, what happens with plans like this, once you try and it fails, you have to go through a whole generation before you can try it again,” Smith said. “The question that has to be asked at this point is ,’What will it take to get it restarted?’ That’s a question for the education association, the School Board, the administrators. Is there really a desire to look at this again? A lot of people who really worked on it have moved on. You would have to re-educate a whole new group of people on alternative compensations.”

But that doesn’t mean administrators and board members aren’t concerned with teacher pay. At Monday’s School Board study session, board members identified attracting and retaining teachers as a priority, if not the most important, item in this year’s strategic plan.

“If we could bring our salaries to or above the mean, we would solve that compensation problem,” said board member Denise Connelly, a former teacher. “There is a general feeling on the board that we need to raise salaries first and just be competitive.”

Connelly and Troeger pointed to the recent departure of staff members to esteemed school districts in Cherry Creek and Fort Collins as an indication that Steamboat is hiring quality teachers. Keeping them here is the tough part.

“I’m really concerned about attract and retain,” Troeger said. “We have a bunch of baby boomers working their way through the system. They are mentors, and your culture and expertise will walk out the door forever. I see it as a basic survival issue for quality.”

Steamboat compares itself to similar mountain resort districts and some Front Range districts when analyzing teacher and staff compensation, Howell said.

Those comparisons reveal that Steamboat is behind in teacher pay, Howell said. The district is proposing a mill levy override to voters this November. If passed, the money will be used to attract and retain quality teachers.

Coming up with an alternative pay system for its employees will have to continue to wait.

– To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail

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