The Jefferson County School District, along with its teachers’ union, would like to ensure all teachers are paid competitively, fairly and rewarded for years of service — which for many, included years of pay freezes during the …
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The Jefferson County School District, along with its teachers’ union, would like to ensure all teachers are paid competitively, fairly and rewarded for years of service — which for many, included years of pay freezes during the recession.
Problem is, there isn’t enough money for all that.
At the April 14 school board meeting Jeffco Executive Director of Human Resources Amy Webber warned that choices would have to be made.
“You can’t do everything,” she told the board, saying that they would have to prioritize between multiple aspects of teacher compensation, since even a discussion of trying to offer a 2 percent across-the-board increase would not bring all teachers up to a competitive level.
The district is in the midst of both developing the 2016-17 school year budget, and renegotiating the teacher’s union contract. As employee compensation comprises of 80 percent of the district’s budget, the issue of what the board would like to do with teacher pay is a core issue.
Complicating matters is a teacher pay structure change implemented in 2014. It was implemented by three board members that were ousted in a recall election in 2015. That change in pay structure featured two main elements — doing away with the old step-in-pay grid structure, and introducing different-sized pay increases based on teacher evaluations.
While some of the newly-elected five school board members — Ron Mitchell, Ali Lasell, Susan Harmon, Amanda Stevens and Brad Rupert — said last week that they were interested in keeping some components of teacher evaluation for pay, they also wanted to explore scrapping the 2014 structure, and return to a “grid” pay schedule.
“If we try to regrid everybody, that’s going to be a $4.5 million cost,” Webber said, citing a teacher’s union estimate of the plan’s yearly cost. She explained that the bulk of the additional costs would be from bringing teachers of similar experience and evaluation up to equal pay levels.
The full board agreed with district staff, and with the teacher’s union, that Jeffco’s teacher salaries had fallen behind in competition with neighboring districts, including Boulder, Cherry Creek, Littleton, Northglenn and Westminster. Salary comparisons show the district as near the bottom or dead last of that list, particularly for teachers with higher degrees or more years teaching experience. For instance, a teacher with at least six years of teaching experience and a masters degree could make at least $2,000 more a year by going to any of those other districts over Jeffco.
Several board members also expressed interest in showing current employees, not just teachers, some appreciation, possibly with an across-the-board pay increase.
Also, in recent negotiations, the teachers’ union called for that return to the grid system, as well as a cost-of-living increase of 5 percent (retroactive to the start of 2016) to help offset years of teacher salaries not keeping pace with inflation.
Each board member gave their preferences as to what their priorities were for funding. There was broad agreement that getting the district’s pay levels more competitive was a top priority.
“It is hiring season for teachers right now guys. I want to send a message,” Lasell said.
Moving the district back to a grid pay system also ranked high. As for how to structure that grid system, the board as a whole seemed to value paying more for teachers with higher degrees.
Rupert said higher qualifications, whether through degrees or teacher evaluations, should be rewarded. Though, with the evaluation system he cautioned “it requires credibility before (compensation) goes there.”
Stevens was the most skeptical of integrating teacher evaluation into a new pay structure, and warned that if it were not implemented well, it could discourage teachers from making “courageous decisions” such as teaching in struggling schools and working with challenging students.
Now that the school board has weighed in, the district and union will continue to negotiate, as the two sides debate how to best use the funding that the Jeffco board says will likely be available. That negotiation process began in February, and deals with the 41-page contract that governs the relationship between the district and teachers. The current 10-month contract expires in June.
The negotiation discussions can be viewed at https://livestream.com/accounts/10429076.
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