Steamboat School Board approves $1K bonus for staff

The Steamboat Springs Board of Education approved a $1,000 bonus for school staff, using a $360,000 budget surplus to reward teachers, paras and other employees for their work during the pandemic.

The board voted for the bonus 3 to 1, with Board President Kelly Latterman being the lone holdout. Board Vice President Katy Lee did not vote, having recused herself from the discussion because of her work as a substitute teacher this year, which would likely make her eligible for the bonus.

“It is an extraordinary year, and we have these funds. Our educators, our custodians, everybody, if there was ever a time,” said Board Member Kim Brack. “I’m for the bonus.”

The board approved restoring administrator raises to their full mark earlier this month, using part of the district’s $450,000 budget surplus from higher than expected revenues and reduced spending on things like travel for sports and snow removal. The decision on the bonus was delayed with the board wanting to hear from schools about other needs they may have that this money could address.

This specific money for the bonuses is being connected to Proposition EE, which was approved by voters last November and raised taxes on cigarettes and nicotine products. The district expects to receive this money until 2024, when that revenue shifts to funding universal preschool across the state.

Mark Rydberg, district finance director, outlined the planned spending on technology, curriculum and facilities costs over the coming years. The list includes 2,000 Chromebook laptops, 20 SMART boards, additional curriculum materials, new buses and $700,000 on repainting classrooms, among other things.

Board Member Lara Craig, who ultimately supported bonuses, pressed Rydberg about whether everything the district would need in the near future had been considered.

“We’ve accounted for the things we know of right now,” Rydberg responded.

In the plan, the district would spend about $1.2 million on technology, $1.3 million on curriculum materials over the next two years and another $2.4 million on facility costs over the next five years. Rydberg said there would still be some money left to spend.

Latterman said her opposition to the bonuses was not because she believed staff was not deserving of the benefit, but she felt the district could accelerate this spending.

“What I would like to see with this one-time money is spending that on improvements for the student experience and for the staff experience,” Latterman said. “(Science, technology, engineering and math), (career and technical education) expansion, literacy aid, social emotional needs assessment, critical technology — they are all worthy investments now rather than waiting over a long period of time.”

Latterman proposed using the current surplus to address the district’s known needs now, opening up money to spend in future years, giving future board members more flexibility to address other priorities, potentially even on issues like teacher housing.

“By spending down this money now while we have it, that allows us, as we continue to have this one-year cycle, to bump up our five-year and beyond programs,” Latterman said. “Which then allows longer term for that savings to go to a larger project, such as affordable housing for educators.”

The district’s fiscal year resets July 1, meaning any purchases would need to be made before then to be included on this year’s budget, though the district could offset the spending to the next fiscal year.

Jay Hamric, director of teaching and learning for the district, said he would be hesitant to rush purchasing things like curriculum materials so they can be sure which product is best.

One option before the board was dividing the surplus, devoting half of it toward a $500 bonus for staff and half toward getting ahead on purchases the district plans to make in the coming years.

“We’ve accounted for everything that we think we can account for right now,” Craig said. “If we are going to do a bonus, let’s make it a worthwhile one.”

Surrounding the discussion is ongoing negotiations between teachers and the district about compensation. Latterman said she felt compensation should be addressed through the ongoing bargaining process and not necessarily with these funds.

Rydberg strongly advised against using any of this money as part of employee compensation, unless it was in the form of a bonus that would not affect the district’s payroll in future budgets. Bargaining discussions will continue Thursday.

“Congratulations,” Latterman said after the vote approving the bonus. “Truly well earned for the staff.”

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