Steamboat teachers ask for new tax to fund salary increase

Strawberry Park Elementary School students wave from a school bus in 2013.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Fourteen teachers addressed the Steamboat Springs Board of Education on Monday, many giving teary testimonies about the struggle to make ends meet on their current salaries. About 10 more teachers sat in the audience in support.

“To live and work in this in town, which I love so much, I have to supplement my teaching job, for which I’ve earned two masters degrees, with at least three other part-time jobs,” said teacher Elissa Chapman.

Chapman described working weekends and summers.

“I do this not because I want to buy a fancy car or take my family on some jet set holiday,” Chapman said. “I do it so I can cover the cost of my son’s broken collar bone and pay the annual garbage bill.”

Teacher and Steamboat Springs Education Association executive board member Deirdre Boyd introduced the group of teachers, describing their collaborative bargaining process currently underway.

“We are going to request you add a mill levy onto the ballot dedicated to teacher salaries,” Boyd said. “We also request it be separate from the bond.”

She was referring to the proposed bond related to a new facility and priority projects at existing schools.

“We know there is an urgent need for facilities,” Boyd said. “But it is even more urgent to address teacher salaries. If we are not in the building, none of that matters.”

Boyd also pointed to the “countless hours” spent by teachers outside of the classroom and told the board, “We are the backbone of this district … We can’t be there if we can’t live here.”

The average teacher salary in Steamboat is about $54,000. Salaries are dictated by education and years worked, ranging from approximately $37,000 to $80,000.

Last year, Steamboat teachers received an average 3.5% pay raise.

The average teacher’s salary in Colorado for the 2017-18 school year was $52,000.

While Steamboat salaries are above average, so is cost of living.

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.

And, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s 2018 Self-Sufficiency Standard, the income required to meet basic living expenses in Routt County is anywhere from two to four times what the government considers the official federal poverty level.

Superintendent Brad Meeks pointed to a recent survey that shows voter support for more district funding, especially if it means paying teachers more. A ballot measure is a possibility, he said, but it will be up to the board to decide. The board will also have to decide whether it is a standalone ballot measure or part of the mill levy override accompanying the construction bond.

The teachers who addressed the board talked about not being able to afford a house and spending $2,500 a month on day care for their own children. One teacher described, at the age of 53, having to ask her mother for money, so she wouldn’t lose her home.

They talked about spending summers waitressing and painting. They talked about the amount of professional development invested in them by the district and their own efforts to further their education. Many said they really wanted to stay in Steamboat but weren’t sure if they could make it work financially.

“Regardless of new facilities, without a mill levy, we will struggle to find professional, innovative, loving teachers that return to provide stability and expertise,” said librarian Megan Scannell. “We’ll never see a diverse staff that reflects the growing diversity of student body. We will undoubtedly experience a loss in the excellence we’ve grown accustomed to within the district.”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.

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