Saturday, November 13, 2004
It is not surprising that the collaborative bargaining process to determine salary and benefits for teachers and staff in the Steamboat Springs School District has led to heightened tensions between the Steamboat Springs Education Association and the School Board. That's the nature of such negotiations.
However, we think the School Board could ease those tensions by agreeing to restore the 1 percent competitive market adjustment teachers and staff were denied this year in next year's salary schedule. Doing so would cost the district about $120,000, but given what has transpired, we think it would be the right thing to do.
The 1 percent reduction is not really a cut in pay. All teachers and staff received a pay increase ranging from 1.69 percent to 4.02 percent this year. School district salary increases are determined by two factors. The first factor is step increases, which are given automatically for completing another year of service. Step increases, which the Education Association inexplicably does not view as raises, averaged 2.25 percent this year.
The second component, a competitive market adjustment, is determined by averaging the percentage increases in salaries given at 11 comparable school districts including Aspen, Boulder Valley, Summit County, Telluride and Moffat County. This year, Negotiated Policy 5, the three-year deal the collaborative bargaining team reached in 2002, called for the competitive market adjustment to be 1 percent below the average.
The School Board followed the policy in adopting the salary schedule last summer and usually that would have been fine, because that was the deal teachers and staff agreed to in 2002. But given what the School Board did just months before, it wasn't fine.
Negotiated Policy 5 deals almost exclusively with the now defunct Knowledge and Skills Based Pay Plan. KSBP would have placed teachers on an accelerated pay schedule, allowing them to increase their salaries more rapidly by demonstrating specific knowledge and skills in the classroom. That opportunity was one of the reasons teachers agreed to accept the 1 percent reduction in the competitive market adjustment.
In May, faced with an audit showing that the board could not control the costs of the KSBP plan, the School Board passed a resolution declaring it unaffordable. For all practical purposes, KSBP was dead. What the Steamboat Springs Education Association incensed is that, even though the board gutted Negotiated Policy 5 when KSBP was scrapped, the board still used the policy to reduce the competitive market adjustment.
Steamboat Springs voters have been very supportive of the district's teachers, overwhelmingly approving a cost-of-living increase in 2001 and time and again supporting the half-cent sales tax for education, which pays for small class sizes and technology, among other things. The school district spends 87 percent of its budget on salaries, well above state and national averages for school districts. As a result, Steamboat teachers enjoy small teacher-to-student ratios and have seen their salaries increase between 15 and 25 percent since the 2001-02 school year. It's important that the Steamboat Springs Education Association not take such support for granted during negotiations this year.
At the same time, it's important for the School Board to recognize that teachers have a legitimate complaint about how Negotiated Policy 5 was used this year. Gutting parts of the policy advantageous to teachers while keeping in place the part that isn't simply isn't fair. The 1 percent reduction in the competitive market adjustment makes up less than 1 percent of the district's overall budget. We urge the board to consider restoring those funds -- such a step could go a long way toward reducing the level of acrimony in this year's negotiations.