Steamboat school district cost of living ranks 4th highest in Colorado
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — 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 cost of living index — which includes factors such as housing, transportation, goods, services and taxes — puts the income of a “typical” three-person household in Colorado at $53,115, the average salary of a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree and 10 or more years of experience. In Steamboat, that figure is 14.5-percent higher at $60,824, according to the report.
The index is used as a key component in determining per pupil funding at each of Colorado’s 178 districts.
The biennial report noted the 10 most expensive school districts in the state continue to be in resort communities, including the Aspen, Summit and Roaring Fork districts, which ranked in the top three. South Routt ranked 17, and Hayden ranked 34.
It’s no surprise that the cost of living — especially housing — is a challenge in Colorado’s resort communities, but it doesn’t appear to be preventing prospective teachers from being interested in living and working in Steamboat.
As the population in the district continues to grow, more teachers are needed. For every job opening, the district has multiple high-quality applicants, according to Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks.
The school district budgets $75,000 per full-time employee, Meeks said. That figure includes salary and benefits, and is slightly higher than the state average.
Meeks said he does not encounter many prospective teachers who decline to work in Steamboat because of the cost of living. Teachers are “making it work,” he said, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle for many, especially those who are just starting their careers.
Many new hires in Steamboat are mid-career teachers, he said, and the district has a very good retention rate.
Teachers in all stages of their careers have second jobs, said Lisa Ruff, who recently retired after 26 years of teaching in the district.
Her husband, a middle school teacher, is also a fly-fishing guide. And her 32-year-old son, in his third year as a high school teacher, needs a roommate to afford rent with his take-home pay of about $32,000, Ruff said.
“We’re missing something here,” she said. “We’ve got to support teachers and provide them with a living wage.”
In addition to teachers, Ruff said those who work in the childcare, nursing and restaurant industries also can no longer afford a home. She calls those service industry workers the “backbone of the community.”
“And what kind of life is it if you can’t afford a home?” she said.
While the district has no trouble filling job openings, Meeks acknowledged that affordable housing is a significant and growing concern.
“We want people to have places to live,” he said.
Meeks has discussed the topic with Yampa Valley Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley, who said an ideal project would be a partnership with the school district utilizing land or facilities the district already owns.
“It’s an opportunity that we want to explore,” Peasley said, given that “land availability is one of the limiting factors for our success.”
The Aspen and Roaring Fork districts, numbers one and three respectively in the rankings, have programs to provide staff with affordable housing.
In Steamboat, subsidized housing goes to residents who fall under the income level of teachers. Both Meeks and Peasley acknowledged that teachers and other education professionals are typically reliant on the income of two people to afford housing in Steamboat.
And for single people or those with families, it can be a much different story.
The disparity between wages and cost of living has long needed more attention, Ruff said. “It is by no means easy.”
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