Raises on table for Steamboat teachers | SteamboatToday.com

Raises on table for Steamboat teachers

Steamboat union seeks salary step increases with revenue influx

— The Steamboat Springs Edu­cation Association wants the school district to use an influx in funding from increased student enrollment to restore salary step increases for teachers and support staff.

If the deal is agreed to, it would represent a change from what initially was negotiated for the current school year. The Collaborative Bargaining Team, which negotiates faculty and staff salaries for the Steamboat Springs School District, agreed in spring to not institute a salary step increase or a cost of living adjustment for employees for the 2010-11 school year. The agreement was based on the assumption that student enrollment, and therefore revenue, would remain flat or decrease.

However, the bargaining team agreed to revisit the terms of the deal after the Oct. 1 pupil count, when school officials would have a better grasp of revenues. The pupil count revealed that Steamboat has 57 more funded students than a year ago. Those extra students will bring the district an additional $412,000 this year. After expenses and the restoration of some staff positions that had been cut last year, the district has $291,000 in excess revenue in its 2010-11 general fund.

Babette Dickson, president of the Steamboat Springs Edu­­­cation Association, called the additional revenue “a sign of relief” during a workshop Wed­nesday between the teachers union and School Board.

Six teachers joined Dickson to speak about the process of determining faculty and staff salaries. They discussed the proposal approved Nov. 9 by the Collaborative Bargaining Team that would provide eligible district faculty and staff with step increases.

During the workshop, Fin­ance Director Dale Mellor said it would cost the district $290,711 to provide salary step increases to eligible faculty and staff. He said 36 for the district’s approximately 280 staff members aren’t eligible for such increases.

Teachers and staff are awarded step increases each year they work for the district. For example, first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree make $32,910. Their salary would increase to $33,942 in the second year, or a step increase of $1,032.

Teachers can move into different salary schedules based on their level of education. For comparison, a first-year teacher with a master’s degree makes $37,894. In the second year, that teacher would make $38,870, or a step increase of $976. Most step increases range from about $1,000 to $1,700, with the raises increasing the longer a teacher has worked for the district and the higher the education level they attain.

Steamboat Springs School Board member Laura Anderson said she wasn’t concerned about spending the money on teacher raises this year, but worried about it raising base salaries and sending the wrong message.

“We as a board had to lay off more than 30 people last year,” she said. “But we’re talking about giving raises to the people who are left. I’m not comfortable with that.”

She suggested that the money be spent to benefit students in the classroom, a sentiment echoed by School Board member Denise Connelly.

“Having a nicer cafeteria or one less kid per classroom is not going to make me a better teacher when I have all these other outside things I’m worried about,” said Steamboat Springs High School math teacher Clint Koehler, who said he supports himself by working five jobs.

A parent who attended the workshop also supported raises for teachers.

Sharon Timmerman, who has two children in the district, said providing raises would allow the district to retain its best teachers.

“To not compensate someone or to not give someone a raise for two years, whether you mean to or not, says something about their performance,” Timmerman said. “You reward people based on performance. These people deserve to be rewarded.”

Connelly also expressed concern about future budget cuts. She noted that the district cut nearly $2 million in this year’s budget and expects more cuts in 2011-12.

Dickson said teachers understand the reality of potential future salary and staff cuts again. But she said they’re tired of the “what ifs?”

“Next year is another budget,” she said. “Next year is another year.”

School Board member Brian Kelly initially took a conservative approach to providing the step increases. He mentioned the county’s furlough program and pay cuts and private-sector employees working fewer hours and making less money. By the end of the workshop, however, he had backed off his position.

“I’m good with this at this point,” he said. “I’ve heard from enough staff members who are not unfamiliar with what’s going on and are willing to come back and be asked to give the money back. If they’re OK with that, I’m OK with that.”

The Steamboat teachers union will vote on the proposal that includes salary step increases. It would then go to the School Board for a vote, potentially during a special meeting in early December.

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