Salary plan meets defeat

Bargaining team sent back to drawing board

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Steamboat Springs School District employees have voted down a proposed salary and benefits package for the 2005-06 school year.

Teachers and staff said their biggest concern with the package was meager salary increases for 12 support staff.

Teachers voted the proposal down by four votes, with 42 for the package and 46 against it. Three teachers abstained.

Support staff voted the proposal down by 14 votes, with 33 for the package and 47 against it. One support staff member abstained.

The Steamboat Springs Col--laborative Bargaining Team worked on the proposal throughout the year before bringing it to employees for a vote. The package also proposed changes to health benefits and annual leave policy. The CBT includes teachers, support staff, administrators and board members.

The rejection of the proposal means that the team will reconvene to try to negotiate a new proposal. Another vote of employees could be taken in the fall, and any approved salary increases then would be applied retroactively.

Dale Mellor, director of finance and operations for the district, said that this was the third year in the past decade in which a package has failed.

School Board President Paula Stephenson, who was a part of the CBT, blamed Strawberry Park Elementary School for the proposal's defeat. Teachers and other certified staff at Strawberry Park voted 28-1 against the plan, and support staff at Strawberry Park voted 16-1 against the plan. Without the Strawberry Park vote, the plan would have been approved.

"Strawberry Park, in effect, killed the whole package," Stephenson said. "I think there's a lot of politicking that's going on at Strawberry Park, and I think it's unfortunate."

Mike Johnson, a Strawberry Park teacher who also is on the executive board of the Steamboat Springs Education Association, said that the top concern was small increases to salaries of some support staff. He said he was not aware that some support staff would receive such small increases.

"It's proper that it was voted down, so we can take it back and, hopefully, we can just tweak it," Johnson said.

Barb Tuchlinsky, an aide who served on the bargaining team, said that 12 support staff would receive salary increases of between 1 and 2 percent.

Those dozen support staff did not include staff at the top of their salary steps or staff whose salaries would have been frozen because they were at or above the mean for 11 comparable districts.

The small increase for some staff was unfair, Tuchlinsky said. Taking those dozen staff up another step so they would have had a more substantial raise would have cost the district about $8,000 with benefits.

Tuchlinsky said that, as part of the CBT, she agreed to take the package to an employee vote before she knew that 12 employees would receive such small raises.

Mellor said there may have been some miscommunication related to salary increases for the 12 support staff, a result of working with different versions of a proposed package during the bargaining process.

He said he was not sure how the package could be changed to increase raises for those employees.

"The reality of the situation is there is no more money to put toward the salary issue," Mellor said.

Johnson said that teachers should have received a bigger pay increase and that he had concerns with portions of the revised annual leave policy. Another concern was that the bargaining team's policy for communicating negotiations was not followed completely, he said.

"I think, overall, the whole package left teachers and support staff with a bad feeling about how the district values them," Johnson said.

Stephenson said she thought the teachers were offered one of the best salary packages in the state in comparison to other districts. Because the state's funding for the district is increasing by less than 1 percent, the proposed 4.88 percent increase was significant, Stephenson said.

About the concern that support staff salaries were not being increased enough, Stephenson said that the district is trying to put as much money in the classrooms as possible.

She said she did not know how the package could be changed. "The school district doesn't have any more money to offer," she said.

Superintendent Donna Howell was out of town Monday, so she was not available for comment.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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