Board to vote on salary, benefits package tonight

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— A diverse 15-person Collective Bargaining Team designed to reach consensus on the nuts and bolts fiscal issues that drive the school system found a way to compromise on all but one vital issue: salary increases.
The Steamboat School Board will vote tonight on a salary and benefits package for teachers and support staff for the the 2000-2001 fiscal year that allows for an annual "step" raise for every employee based on experience, but no cost of living raise. The teachers' average step allows them a raise of 2.25 percent over their 1999-2000 salary. Step increases for support staff averaged 4 percent.
A third-year teacher with a bachelor's degree, for instance, will see an increase in his or her salary from $25,419 to $26,166. That increased pay will be added retroactively to the salary the teacher has been receiving since the beginning of the school year, said Jeni Holloway, school payroll manager.
Although step increases are automatic in some school districts, Steamboat does not guarantee them, said School Superintendent Cyndy Simms.
At the bargaining team meetings, teachers, school board members, staffers and administrators had discussed including about a half-percent raise in the package but decided against it in favor of returning to the bargaining table come January.
"We voted on a package last week that was only a partial package without voting on a salary increase," said Sue MacCarthy, co-president of the Steamboat Springs Education Association. The SSEA is a union representing teachers and some support staff.
"Everything is really controversial right now and people are really upset," MacCarthy said.
Despite the disapproval of many teachers, however, MacCarthy said she does want this partial package to be passed by the school board tonight so she can go back to the bargaining table come January to fight for higher salaries.
The teachers voted 61 to 49 in favor of the package, while support staff supported it 54 to 23.
About 90 percent of the district's teachers belong to the union, MacCarthy said.
"We need to be creative to find a way to get people some more money. It's getting harder and harder to get people to stay here," she said. "It's just too expensive."
Simms said that much of the difficulty in finding the funding for salaries comes from the fact that the state did not approve the district for enough funding. In the interest of achieving equity among poorer and richer school districts, the state applies a "finance formula" to each district that limits the amount of money it can allocate to the schools.
That finance formula allowed the county to allocate $5,868 per pupil this year, $160 more than it allowed last year, an increase of 2.80 percent in operating revenue.
The city does not collect property tax mills to fund schools over the value allowed by the finance formula, Simms said.
Steamboat's cost of living index, which is used to calculate the finance formula, did not receive any increase this year over last year, despite local increases in the cost of housing and other basic necessities as calculated by the Steamboat Chamber Resort Association.
In addition, the district's health insurance costs rose by 9.64 percent this year and natural gas costs rose by about 30 percent, Mellor said.

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