Teachers may face deficit

Bargaining team may struggle to negotiate salaries

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The Steamboat Springs School District could be facing a deficit when the Collaborative Bargaining Team considers another salary package. That could make it more difficult to reach a compromise on salaries.

District employees voted against the proposed package June 9. If the package had been approved, the school district could have faced a $40,000 deficit because of an increase in the cost of workers-compensation insurance that officials learned about just days before the vote, District Finance Director Dale Mellor said.

District employees said the main reason the package was voted down last Thursday was the smaller-than-expected raises it included for 12 of the 104 support staff members employed by the district. However, Super--intendent Donna Howell said the predicted deficit could make it much harder to pay the $8,000 needed to give those employees more substantial raises.

The potential deficit also could mean the CBT might have to reconsider proposed salary schedules. Howell said she recommends that the salary schedule not be changed, but that the district try to save money elsewhere to cover any deficit.

The CBT will meet again in August, so the earliest teachers could see another package would be late fall or early winter.

Bo Yennie, a teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary School who was part of the CBT, said he thinks the district could use reserves to fund the increased salaries for those 12 employees. He also would like to see small raises given to support staff whose salaries were proposed to be frozen.

Howell said using reserves for continuing needs, such as salaries, is not a good move financially.

Under the package voted against last week, increases for the 12 people were between 1 percent and 2 percent, compared with an average 4 percent salary increase for support staff districtwide.

Full-time support staff make between $13,000 and $44,000 a year, Mellor said. Most of the 12 people affected likely had salaries in the lower end of the range.

"I'm encouraged that the staff expressed a concern about their colleagues, because it really is consistent with what we're trying to do, and that's (to) be as fair and equitable as we can," Howell said about the vote.

The effect on those 12 employees was not realized until after the CBT approved the package, Howell said.

The bargaining team had agreed on a pay scale, but it hadn't determined how it would affect each employee until after the package was approved, Howell said. Several salary proposals were being considered, and it may not have been clear how the one the CBT approved would shake out for all employees.

Another key reason employees cited for not supporting the package was a new policy on annual leave, Howell said.

For the past two years, the district has tried a policy in which employees can use their nine annual leave days without getting an OK from administration. The number of annual leave days teachers used doubled during those two years, Howell and Mellor said, so district officials thought it was appropriate to change the policy. The days are meant to be used when someone is sick or has extenuating circumstances, and the new policy outlines that.

When an employee accumulates enough annual leave, teachers could be reimbursed at a rate of $42.50 per day, and support staff could be reimbursed at 25 percent of their daily pay.

The changes, Howell said, could end up saving the district money, because fewer substitute teachers would have to be hired. More importantly, she said, it would keep teachers in the classroom more.

Yennie said a new policy on annual leave seems like a loss to teachers and other staff.

He said he hoped the entire package could be tweaked to make sure no staff members are left behind.

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

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