Many Steamboat Springs School District teachers and support staff are paid less than their peers working for similar high-performing and high cost-of-living districts, according to a multi-district comparative analysis of school employee salaries.
Steamboat's certified teachers make 1.2 percent to 4.9 percent less than the average salaries of teachers in 11 other Colorado school districts, according to the analysis, which was performed by an outside group.
District support staff make 0.5 percent to 4.2 percent less than their peers in those districts, though the differences increase and decrease depending on the position. For example, the district's English as a Second Language aides are paid 14 percent less than the average ESL aide in the comparable districts. However, district administrators are paid 2.7 percent below the mid-point of the 11-district salary range.
The districts surveyed for the analysis were Telluride, Aspen, Boulder Valley, Cheyenne Mountain, Moffat County, Summit County, Eagle County, Academy 20, Lewis-Palmer, Ouray and Roaring Fork. The district has compared its salaries to those districts' for several years.
The district requested the analysis to help it formulate a new salary schedule for its employees. The current salary schedule, which was intended to give way to a progressive Knowledge and Skills Based Pay system, expires at the end of the school year. The School Board scrapped plans for the KSBP system last year after determining it to be unaffordable.
The results of the analysis aren't a surprise to district employees, Steamboat Springs Education Association president and middle school teacher Brad Kindred said.
"This is what we've been talking about for years," Kindred said. "If we're a high-performing district, why are we paid below the mean? We're not asking for above the mean, we're asking for the mean."
The salaries the district pays its employees would be closer to the mean if the district hadn't subtracted 1 percent from the competitive market salary adjustment last year, Kindred said. The 1 percent deduction was a component of the negotiated KSBP policy. Teachers argue that the district shouldn't have subtracted the 1 percent because the School Board unilaterally chose to terminate the KSBP system.
The district's Collaborative Bargaining Team is in the process of negotiating a new salary and benefits package to take effect this fall. Superintendent Donna Howell said the district will use the comparative analysis to create a salary schedule that moves as many teachers and support staff as possible to the mean of the salaries paid by the 11 districts.
However, Howell said it's unlikely the district will be able to bring all employees to market value this year because of budget constraints.
"I would like to find a way to bring the teachers up to the mean," Howell said. "If we can't, we may have to do it over a couple of years."
The School Board is committed to attracting and retaining the best teachers, Howell said. She acknowledged that the district will have to raise salaries to be able to do so.
"With that goal, it's important to bring us up to the mean," Howell said.
District employees typically leave the area after a couple of years because of the high cost of living and salaries that don't allow them to make ends meet, Kindred said.
"That's a trend we, as teachers, are very concerned about," he said.
A shrinking budget and a board policy that stipulates the district can't spend more than 80 percent of its general budget on salaries and benefits will force the school system to look for savings through areas such as employee health insurance and staffing levels, Howell said.
"The reality is if you keep on bringing the salaries up, you have to look at the staffing you have," Howell said. "I'm hoping we can find a way where we can do the best for our staff while maintaining our programs."