Steamboat school board to discuss salary increases and November ballot language
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With decisions on the Nov. 5 ballot language to be finalized at its Aug. 26 meeting, the Steamboat Springs Board of Education will continue its discussion on the proposed bonds and mill levy overrides to fund priority projects, new school construction and operating costs as well as staff pay raises.
For months, teachers have been telling personal stories of financial struggle to the board members, including difficult decisions of whether or not they can afford to stay in Steamboat on their current salaries.
It is a problem seen locally, statewide and nationally, said Steamboat Springs Education Association executive board member Deirdre Boyd, and one that has existed for decades.
“Teachers and support staff are finding it very difficult to live in the communities where we teach, especially in this valley,” she said.
Steamboat Springs School District is ranked fourth highest in the state in terms of cost of living, according to a 2017 study commissioned by the Colorado Legislative Council.
The starting annual teacher salary in the Steamboat district for the 2018-19 school year was $37,681, with an exit salary of $78,958. The average teacher salary was $54,650. It was about $52,000 for the state of Colorado.
For a single adult with one child in preschool, the family of two would need to earn $61,811 a year with an hourly wage of $29.27 to make ends meet in Routt County, according to the report’s Routt County calculator. The federal poverty benchmark for the same family is $16,460.
And teachers are not alone. Almost a third — or 30.4% — of local households fall under the self-sufficiency wage standard.
At a board workshop in July, Finance Director Mark Rydberg presented the numbers and thought process behind a recommended $1.2 million mill levy override to fund pay raises for teachers and support staff.
Bond ($79.5 million) and mill levy override ($2.8 million), per $500,000 in assessed value:
Total estimate with staff salary increase ($1.2 million):
In May, the board unanimously approved pay raises for teachers and staff for the 2019-20 school year as negotiated by the district’s collective bargaining team. Teachers will receive a 4.5% increase in pay, while classified staff will receive a 5.5% boost.
Boyd called that increase a “stop-gap” measure for a crisis that she said must be addressed now in a comprehensive way.
Rydberg compared Steamboat to nine other districts, chosen for analogous factors like size, student achievement and performance and community characteristics. The list also includes a sampling of both metro and mountain districts, with some of the metro districts considerably bigger in size.
Among those, Steamboat ranked ninth for starting salaries and eighth for exit salaries.
If voters pass the mill levy, the $1.2 million would represent a raise of approximately 6% and could be distributed in various ways across the three schedules: licensed staff, classified staff and administration staff.
Rydberg noted some positions are harder to fill than others, like custodial and paraprofessionals, and may be easier to fill with specified raises. He also noted that even if the difference in dollar amounts is not huge, getting the starting teaching salary above the $40,000 mark can be a powerful “attraction tool.”
That competitive recruitment piece is important, noted Steamboat Springs Education Association President Jessica Reagon, and particularly for some of the support staff positions.
In addition, it is detrimental when resources are poured into training new teachers, only to have them leave a few years later because they realize they can’t afford to settle here and buy a house, Reagon said.
Against the other comparison districts, Steamboat’s current salary schedule — a complex system of “lanes” and “steps” related to years of experience and education — was described as weaker on the front end of a teaching career but stronger in the middle and at the end.
The salary schedules vary among the nine districts in terms of how many steps they have and what percentage of wage increase employees earn when they move between those steps.
One issue throughout has been whether the mill levy to support teacher and support staff pay raises will be posed as a separate ballot question or combined with the proposed $79.5 million construction bond and $2.8 million operational mill levy override.
Reagon said she believes they should be separate on the ballot.
“Voters deserve transparency and the ability to separate out the two things,” Reagon said.
Another issue discussed was whether administrators would be included in the pay raises.
Administrators are not currently living below that $61,811 salary mark, Reagon said.
“We absolutely support our administrators and love them,” she said, but the more dire cost of living gap is being felt by the teachers and support staff.
For the 2019-20 school year, assistant principal and principal annual salaries in the district range from $78,481 to $136,294. In June, the board approved Superintendent Brad Meek’s annual salary of $201,945.
Some of those other comparable districts have seen raises in recent years, Reagon said.
“We are falling quickly behind,” she added. “That they’ve taken a jump makes us less appealing.”
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