Steamboat teachers, district to talk compensation next week
Contract negotiations between union, school district started in January
About 40 Steamboat Springs teachers showed up to the district’s first in-person meeting since early in the pandemic on Monday, March 28, amid ongoing contract negotiations.
Talks between the district and the Steamboat Springs Education Association — which represents both licensed and classified staff, adding up to about 70% of employees in the district — started in January. The two sides have met once in February and twice this month.
A dozen teachers addressed the board during public comment on Monday, some of them saying they were speaking for other teachers that either couldn’t make the meeting or were uneasy about addressing the board.
“We are specialists in our content,” said Babette Dickson, a French teacher in the district who is retiring after 20 years this year. “But we are also psychologists, leaders, motivational speakers and all the other side responsibilities that we have. Those exploded in the last three, four years.”
The negotiations are generally an annual process that the district hopes to complete by Memorial Day, allowing enough time for school board approval ahead of the start of the next fiscal year in July.
Jessica Reagon, president of the Steamboat Springs Education Association and a sixth grade special education teacher in the district, said the association’s proposals this year are primarily based around morale.
After meeting to lay out the ground rules for negotiations in January, the two sides started looking at policies they would like to review as they wait for firm financial figures from the state legislature about school funding.
Reagon said the union would like to look at policies defining planning time for staff during the day and advocate for more support for special-service providers, such as school psychologists or speech language pathologists, who Reagon said don’t have the same employment protections as teachers.
But some of these policies are considered non-negotiable. Reagon said the union wants to change them into negotiable policies, but that proposal was met without enthusiasm from the district.
“From the beginning, the district didn’t want to look at those with us,” Reagon said. “We came back with them again a second time, and it feels like we’re at least being listened to a little more now.”
Superintendent Brad Meeks said these policies are largely about building management and day-to-day school operations.
During various styles of instruction the district adjusted to during the pandemic, Meeks said some of the rules have been administered inconsistently from building to building.
“These are non-negotiated policies, so from the district’s perspective, principals have to have some latitude to be able to manage and administer the buildings day to day and make sure calluses are covered,” Meeks said.
After that initial meeting, Meeks said he met with principals to understand how things may have been different from building to building.
He said the district has invited teachers to participate to review some of these policies to see what updates may need to be made, but that would be outside of the contract negotiation process.
“We would like to achieve what (the teachers) would like to achieve, but not by bringing it into the bargaining process,” said board member Chresta Brinkman, who is representing the board during the negotiations.
Talks about compensation are being saved until later in the bargaining process because the district needs to know what its funding for the next year will look like. Each side is expected to make its first proposal on compensation on Tuesday, April 5.
School funding in Colorado is based on a formula that takes into account the number of students, number of at risk students and inflation. But as the state was reeling from the economic fallout of the recession, the legislature came up with what is called the budget stabilization factor, or BS factor, that allows the state to fund schools at a level below the formula.
“We should be getting this fiscal year alone $1.5 million more per that original formula,” said Stephanie Juneau, director of finance and operations for the district.
The board approved a resolution on Monday pressuring the legislature to fund schools fully.
The district estimates that since the introduction of the budget stabilization factor, Steamboat schools have lost out on about $29 million in state funding. In all, it is estimated that Colorado schools are owed about $10 billion from the state.
While initially it seemed the state was willing to pay down some of what was owed this year, Reagon said, state officials now seem to be “backpedaling.”
“It happens every year,” Reagon said. “You hear big things and get really excited and then they’re pulling back.”
Several teachers spoke about a need to increase pay, saying that what they make isn’t sustainable in Steamboat, despite the district being among the top 10 in the state for teacher pay. Some advocated for increased pay for paraprofessionals as well, a position the district has been short in all school year.
Meeks said that despite the lack of state funding, the district has provided pay increases for both licensed and classified staff in most years, and he anticipated there would be a pay increase this year as well.
He was confident the two sides would reach a deal.
“We’ll get something done, we always do,” Meeks said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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