Steamboat School District staff, board prepare to vote on salary increase proposal
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As the Steamboat Springs School District Bargaining Team’s more than six months of teacher and staff salary negotiations draw to a close, the Steamboat Springs Education Association =will now take the final proposal to employees for a vote.
The contract will then go before the Board of Education for final approval.
The main sticking point during the past several meetings has been when to build the new 4A money into the salary schedule.
Aimed at attracting and retaining high quality teachers and staff, ballot measure 4A passed with a wide margin in the November 2019 election, earning 65% of the votes.
Measure 4A, which never expires and increases based on the Consumer Price Index, adds approximately $3.65 per month in taxes to residential property owners and $14.81 for commercial properties.
The annual dollar amount of taxes collected starts at about $1.2 million, with 2.5% growth estimated each year thereafter. In 2049, it is estimated at close to $2.5 million.
Salaries are dictated in a series of steps and determined by education and years worked, ranging from approximately $38,500 to $84,000.
The Board of Education was hoping to postpone setting the new salary schedule until January 15, 2021, when they will have a much better sense of student enrollment numbers, whether or not the state is going to decrease the per pupil funding amount, and other economic uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s incumbent on us to weigh all of the factors in how our decisions will have an impact down the road,” said Board Member Chresta Brinkman during the July 22 negotiations. Brinkman is the board’s representative on the team.
“We are trying to think about this long term,” she said, “and right now, we have no idea about the number of students or per pupil funding.”
The state has set the per pupil funding amount, but there is a real risk it could be rescinded mid-year and set at a lower amount.
Brinkman said the board wanted to minimize any potential future cuts to staffing or programming.
The education association wanted the salary schedule to be set by September 15.
Eric Hansen, regional representative for the Colorado Education Association, said he felt the local association was being “held hostage” by not letting the salary schedule be implemented for four months.
Regardless, explained Brinkman, teachers and staff would have been compensated with the 4A money, but it likely would have been more in the form of a one-time bonus in the fall than built into the schedule.
“The salary schedule will be with us for a long time,” Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks said.
While sales tax has seen a significant drop, property tax is expected to keep more stability, though nothing is certain in terms of the overall health of the economy at this time.
Ultimately, Brinkman and the district conceded to setting the schedule for September 15. But the board wasn’t entirely comfortable with it, Brinkman emphasized, given “a million things we don’t know.”
Teachers and staff already received a one-time bonus in April after the first round of property taxes was collected in March. Excluding the superintendent, district employees received an average bonus of $3,276.
In May of 2019, the board unanimously approved a 4.5% increase in pay for teachers and a 5.5% percent increase for classified staff — which went into effect for the 2019-20 school year.
Over the course of last year’s board meetings, dozens of teachers went before the board with their stories of struggling to make ends meet and uncertainties about being able to stay in the district — primarily due to the high cost of living.
When Finance Director Mark Rydberg drew up a list of nine comparable districts, Steamboat ranked ninth for starting salaries and eighth for exit salaries.
For the 2017-18 school year, the average annual teacher salary for Colorado was about $52,000 and about $54,000 in Steamboat.
Much emphasis throughout the 4A lobbying campaign was put on the need to stay competitive with other districts in attracting the best and brightest to Steamboat, as well as paying them enough to stay.
During the July 22 negotiations, Meeks noted the district was very interested in raising the starting salaries, and Rydberg commented he was surprised the education association came back with a lower starting salary.
Deirdre Boyd, an association member, emphasized that 4A “was never just about the starting salary,” but also about “teachers who give their heart and soul to their students and can’t afford to live here.” Boyd also said they need to be careful about undervaluing teachers with doctorate degrees.
In the latest proposal, the district put forth a starting salary of $43,600, while the education association pitched a starting salary of $42,500. The team agreed to move forward with the higher number.
While the district’s starting teacher salary for the 2019-20 school year of $38,435 ranked 36th in the state, the new salary would rank seventh.
Among the nine comparable districts, it would now rank first.
The agreed upon maximum amount on the licensed teacher salary schedule is now $102,330. The maximum for licensed employees in 2019-20 was $83,802.
For the classified staff increase, the board agreed to go up from their proposed 6.75% increase to the association’s 7% increase.
The negotiations also increase the number of steps on the salary schedule from 20 to now a total of 27. Those steps, explained Meeks, are a method of retention, by increasing recognition of experience and further education.
The salary increases apply to every employee with the exception of the superintendent.
For 2019-20, administrator salaries ranged from $53,190 to $136,294. Administrators are receiving an average increase of about 4%. Administrator salaries were not part of negotiations.
Outside of the 4A money, the district agreed to more pay for teachers who also coach or teach extracurricular clubs or classes. The district also is paying for the increase in health insurance premiums, which represents about $3 million more this year, Meeks said. The district pays the bulk of individual insurance premiums.
The district has already made some programming cuts due to about $800,000 less than anticipated from the Education Fund Board and the half-cent sales tax, and staff cuts because of a lower fall enrollment projection — however, those cuts were made only through attrition and eliminating new positions.
With everything conducted virtually for this year’s negotiations, the traditional bargaining method felt a bit different, said Meeks.
After all the district’s employees are presented with the new salary package — likely in a zoom conference for each building — they will vote on whether to accept it. The board will then vote for approval at their Aug. 17 meeting.
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