It was a relief last week when Steamboat Springs School District teachers and support staff overwhelmingly approved a salary and benefits package for the 2006-07 school year. The package was made official Monday night by a unanimous vote of the School Board.
Everyone involved in the negotiating process, including teachers, support staff representatives, administrators, Superintendent Donna Howell and School Board President Tom Miller-Freutel, deserves kudos for what appears to have been the smoothest and least confrontational contract negotiations process in years.
That the salary package for the 2006-07 school year was approved in May is noteworthy. The salary and benefits package for the current school year wasn't approved until late October 2005 --wo months after the fall semester began. Our teachers and support staff deserve to know their salaries and benefits before their first day of work begins.
Under the parameters of the new package, district teachers will receive an average salary increase of 4.7 percent, which includes a "competitive market adjustment" of between 2.5 and 3 percent and a "step" increase averaging 2.25 percent. Support staff will receive an average raise of 4.8 percent, including a competitive market adjustment of as much as 3 percent and an average step increase of 4.2 percent. The salary and benefit increases will cost the district more than $700,000.
"The market increase will result in our teacher and support staff salaries moving closer to the salaries of employees in comparative school districts," Howell said last week after district employees voted, 186-4, to approve the deal.
Perhaps most responsible for the successful negotiations was the district's move to an interest-based negotiating model. In recent years, negotiations were slowed by a collaborative bargaining process that involved too many people bringing too many issues and too much animosity to the table, participants said. The interest-based model encouraged participants to state their interests and then promote discussions about goals, obstacles and solutions. Many of the meetings, which began in January, were facilitated by a outside professionals.
Hiring two facilitators was a smart move for a school system that, though highly successful in the education of our children, has been harmed in recent years by disputes between district officials --articularly the School Board --nd employees. The breakdown of the Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay system and the resulting salary increase dispute is just one example. The approval last year of salary increases for administrators before teacher and support staff pay was resolved is another.
One year of smooth negotiations likely won't erase years of bad feelings, but it certainly is a step in the right direction. Continued timely and amicable negotiations will allow our teachers and administrators to turn their undivided attention to where it belongs -- on educating our children.