Steamboat School Board, teachers agree on new salary package, including 5.5% pay increase

Steamboat Springs School District administration building. (Photo by John F. Russell)

The Steamboat Springs Board of Education and the Steamboat Springs Education Association agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement Monday night, giving licensed teachers an average pay bump of 5.5% for next year.

The teachers’ union overwhelmingly approved the new deal, with just two of its members abstaining and no one voting against the agreement earlier this month. After a short presentation on the new package, the board unanimously approved it with almost no discussion.

Negotiations have been ongoing for several weeks, happening in five meetings open to the public between the teachers association and district representatives.

“Both parties made a really strong commitment to work together to create a package,” said board member Chresta Brinkman, who took part in negotiations for the board. “I feel this is a fair package.”

The agreement also increases the starting wage for a teacher to $45,000 per year, continuing a push from the district to eventually get the entry-level wage for a teacher to $50,000.

The average teacher salary in the Steamboat Springs School District was about $60,600 for the 2020-21 school year, which ranked 17th out of almost 200 districts in the state. The salary increase approved Monday was the largest for teachers since 2014, when faculty members got an almost identical average raise, according to District Financial Director Mark Rydberg.

“Last year, we made a lot of progress in that area as well,” said Superintendent Brad Meeks, referencing a push from staff to increase starting wages a few years ago. “We are making good progress toward that.”

Classified staff, such as janitors, are getting a slightly higher bump of 6.5%, and some adjustments were made to prevent new hires from jumping in at a higher pay rate than current employees in the same job. The district also renewed administrative contracts.

Employees won’t be contributing more to their health insurance policies this year like they have over the past few, with the district shouldering premium increases this coming year.

“This year, we felt we do not have to ask the employees to help share in that increase,” Meeks said.

The new agreement also makes several changes to leave policies and also offers a slight substitute pay increase, which was inspired by the pandemic.

The district is in a good spot financially for next year’s budget, even with the raises for staff, Rydberg said.

“We’re going to have a balanced budget for the general fund and for every fund that we have except the building fund,” Rydberg said, noting the latter is unbalanced by design.

The district plans to restore many of the positions and programs that were cut amid last summer’s scramble to adjust the budget with the uncertainty of the pandemic looming. The district initially projected a half-million dollar deficit but ended up with a $450,000 surplus, which was used to restore administrator raises and give school staff a bonus.

But this summer is much different, and while there may be a revision in January 2022 if something major happens, Rydberg said this is likely the final document.

“The biggest wildcard at this point is student count — that’s it,” Rydberg said.

The district has an enrollment goal of at least 2,600 students for the 2021-22 school year, which is a 33-student increase over last school year’s student numbers but still lower than pre-pandemic enrollments. Rydberg said the district is about 98% of the way there.

Meeting the enrollment benchmark is important, because it would mean the district’s five-year-average pupil count used to determine funding would not decrease.

The money the district will get for each student, known as per-pupil funding, was finalized by the state at a slightly higher level than Rydberg had been budgeting for. The district will get $8,875 per student, which is $771 more per student more than in the 2020-21 school year.

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