Paula Stephenson: School response


Several years ago the Steamboat Springs School District started down a path to build on the success of our educational system. The idea was to look at the district as a whole and to find ways in which the organization could be improved upon to create a system that a) provides an exceptional learning environment for all of the children in the district, b) turns out confident, self-assured life-long learners, c) attracts and retains an unparalled staff and d) is greater than the sum of its parts.

To achieve that end, the Board of Education embarked upon several initiatives: the creation of a competitive multi-year pay plan, a communications audit, community forums, a curriculum management audit and the establishment of alternative learning models within the high school and elementary schools.

Recently, the board's commitment to an alternative pay system and increased teachers' salaries has been questioned. The teacher's union, the Steamboat Springs Education Association, has accused us of unilaterally eliminating the Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay system, and the Editorial Board of the Steamboat Pilot & Today has stated that the board wasted time and money trying to develop a system that was not financially feasible. These accusations are unfair and untrue.

Three years ago, the Board of Education voted on a resolution supporting the negotiation and adoption of a multi-year pay plan for certified and support staff. The parameters of the plan provided that:

n The pay plan will be for a three-year period;

n Consistent with district fiscal integrity, the pay plan should keep staff competitive as compared to a previously agreed upon data base of school districts;

n The pay plan will include an annual cost of living increase which will include a step increase on the salary schedule for eligible employees;

n Any proposal must be guided by the thoughtful consideration of principals of merit pay, career advancement/experience factors, pay-for-performance principals, and continuity assurances from year to year.

To establish a "competitive" salary schedule for our teachers, we identified 11 districts we felt were similar to Steamboat Springs. We then compared our salaries to those in each of the 11 districts. It turned out that the salaries of the staff in Steamboat were not at a level we felt was competitive.

Therefore, in 2001-02, the board voted to provide teachers with a 6.35 percent pay raise. In 2002, KSBP was put forth as an alternative salary schedule. Recognizing this as yet another way to attract and retain an exceptional staff, the Board of Education went to the voters for funding. In 2002-03, $773,000 was added to the district's general fund, earmarked for teacher's salaries, and teachers were awarded a 12.5 percent increase in pay. In 2003-04, salaries increased by 4 percent and next year (based on comparatives) salaries will increase by 3 percent. In the past three years, teachers' salaries have risen by almost 23 percent. Teachers earned those raises, and the board is committed to doing more. But there is a fine line that must be walked when promoting the district's well-being while protecting the taxpayers' interests.

Each and every board member supports the further investigation and development of an alternative compensation plan. As was done three years ago, the board approved a resolution stating its support of the negotiation and adoption of a multi-year pay plan for certified and support staff. Furthermore, we reaffirmed the parameters of the June 2001 vote.

What the board could not continue to support was a system that did not address the original provisions of the resolution concerning financial predictability. With a top level of pay at 10 percent above every other district in Colorado and a compressed salary schedule through which a teacher could advance in half the time it typically would take, but without strict limitations and/or an unlimited yearly infusion of capital, the KSBP system would have bankrupt the district. True, our financial consultant stated that an additional $650,000 per year for 10 years would be enough to fund the current KSBP program, but again, that was with a set of controls (turnover equal to movement into the top category) that neither the board nor the community nor the teacher's union was willing to cede. Moreover, the public as well as the board continues to demand that teacher pay be tied to measurable student outcomes. Therefore, agreement on that issue must be reached before the board will take any additional mill levy increases to the public for a vote.

Without knowing exactly what the board, administrative team, teachers and support staff have been working on the past three years and without truly seeking to understand the point at which the district and Board of Education are now, it is easy to judge and say that time and energy were wasted. But to say that does a disservice to the countless hours the KSPB team spent developing a system that can be implemented, albeit in a different manner than originally proposed.

Salary negotiations are set to being again next fall. As we have for the past two years, members of the Board of Education will participate in the collaborative bargaining process. We are hopeful the outstanding work thus far completed by the KSBP team will continue to be honored as we move forward during the next three years. Our staff is this district's greatest asset, and the Board of Education is committed to ensuring their success and retaining their outstanding talent.

Paula Stephenson

President, Steamboat Springs

School Board


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