OUR VIEW

Paying teachers

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Now is certainly not the best time to talk about raising taxes. The economy has soured and the effects of the Sept. 11 attacks will only make things worse.

Advocates of Referendum 3A, a tax increase to provide the Steamboat Springs School District with $773,000 per year for cost-of-living increases for teachers, argue that the referendum is not really a tax increase since the district's tax rate will decrease from last year. But let's be clear it is a tax increase in the sense that our school taxes will be lower if referendum 3A fails.

That said, we believe voters should approve Referendum 3A.

Much has been done to increase teacher pay in recent months a 4-percent pay increase last year, a 6.25-percent increase this year and pay for performance bonuses derived from the half-cent sales tax for education. Still, even with those changes, teacher salaries in Steamboat lag behind others in the state not to mention the nation especially when you consider the community's high cost of living. State figures show Steamboat has the eighth highest cost of living of the 176 school districts in Colorado.

Including the recent raises, Steamboat teachers start at $25,900 per year. That's less than any teacher in Texas, home to some of the most impoverished school districts in the nation.

On average, Steamboat teachers earn $41,727 per year, slightly above the state average of $40,887. But Steamboat teachers earn less on average than teachers in districts such as Vail, Aspen and Summit County. Even in neighboring Moffat County, where the cost of living is significantly less, teachers earn $47,000 per year on average.

Since the state's finance formula largely dictates what the district's tax rate will be, the Steamboat district's tax revenues havent grown proportionately with the tax base in the area. Most taxpayers have seen their school tax bills decrease in the last five years. And if Referendum 3A is approved, most tax bills will still decrease while the district will raise about $3,289 for each of its 235 staff members.

Teachers are but one group of workers in this community who are underpaid. Law enforcement officers, child-care workers, store clerks, bookkeepers and others can make the argument they deserve better wages as well.

But because our schools are publicly funded, raising taxes is the only way to raise teacher pay. This is an opportune time to raise teacher pay without overburdening taxpayers. We should take advantage of that opportunity by approving Referendum 3A.

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