Teachers raise concerns wiith School Board

Lack of communication fuels mistrust, union laders say

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— Pay raises for Steamboat Springs School District teachers and support staff were finally approved Monday, but not before a discussion between School Board members and leaders of the local teachers union revealed a strained relationship between the teachers and the board.

Steamboat Springs Education Association executive council members Brad Kindred and Mike Johnson told the School Board at its study session Monday that recent decisions and rumors have left many teachers wary of district motives.

One of the concerns cited by Johnson and Kindred was the School Board's failure to approve staff salary increases in June, when it approved pay raises for district administrators.

Superintendent Donna Howell again took full responsibility for the mistake.

"It just fell through the cracks, and it shouldn't have," Howell said. "I can understand how they feel -- there's a history there."

Whatever the reason for the delay, Johnson said there's a concern among teachers that administrators are given priority over other district staff.

The pay raises for teachers and support staff will take effect at the same time as those for administrators, Howell said.

Kindred voiced his concern over how the district calculated pay increases -- namely the decision to take away 1 percent of the competitive market adjustment even though a progressive pay system expected to significantly improve salaries was scrapped by the School Board earlier this year.

"Here's the rub," Kindred said. "When the funds were taken away from the Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay plan, it affected all three components of the (negotiated policy)."

But instead of working with staff to come up with a revised or new salary policy, the School Board has continued to follow two of the policy's components by working on KSBP's evaluation system and complying with the stipulation that subtracted 1 percent of the competitive market adjustment from staff salary increases.

"NP-5 is gone," Kindred said, referring to the specific negotiated policy. "You pulled out KSBP, why are you still using the policy?"

Kindred said the School Board's actions affirm internal staff surveys that indicate a lack of district communication and mistrust of board policies.

School Board President Paula Stephenson said that although the specific KSBP alternative compensation system proved too expensive for the district, the School Board continues to seek another compensation system and the existing policy is still valid until a new salary schedule is negotiated this fall.

Johnson, a Strawberry Park Elementary School teacher, also questioned the School Board about reports that the board wants to split up Strawberry Park's staff after Principal John DeVincentis retires at the end of the 2004-05 school year.

Stephenson and Howell said the rumor is just that -- a rumor.

"We haven't even talked about (transferring teachers) as a board," Stephenson said.

Other concerns voiced by Johnson and Kindred:

A subcommittee of teachers wasn't given the data used to determine the competitive market adjustment component of staff salary increases when it was received by district officials in late-May, as is stipulated in negotiated policy.

Copies of the 160-page curriculum management audit haven't been provided to SSEA leaders or teachers, even as the School Board moved to accept the report and give Howell the authority to move forward with its recommendations.

There hasn't been any discussion of how or what collaborative bargaining structure will be used this fall to negotiate a new salary schedule for district staff.

"Trust is always going to be an issue," Stephenson said after Monday's meeting. "It's never going to go away. It's an adversarial relationship almost. I don't want it to be that way. They had very valid complaints about the lack of communication."

The School Board needs to continue to focus on improving communication, she said.

"We're open for suggestions. There are probably communication steps both sides can take."

Howell also said the district must continue to strive for improvement. "The bottom line is you continue working to improve communication and continue working to improve trust," she said. "I believe (the mistrust) is going to lessen as we work together."

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