Denise Connelly: Support Referendum 3C

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Quality education is vital to our community and over the years the Steamboat Springs School District has delivered. In past years I have seen our seniors head off to post-graduate institutions ranging from our great state universities to some of the top schools of the nation, including Penn State, Stanford, Princeton and Dartmouth. We've always had reason to be proud of our educational system, but recently, I've seen some distressing trends.

In the last five years we have had an 80 percent staff turnover rate at the high school. New blood can be good for an organization, but with this large a turnover we lose continuity and are forced to put much more of our time and money into retraining. I personally know of two teachers who left in the past three years for Cherry Creek School District and three others who are now at Fort Collins High School. While I'm glad that they received the increase in salary, I am very disappointed that our district lost them. Some believe that our district has become a "training district." Good teachers come here, gain experience and excellent training, and are snatched up by other districts that can afford to pay higher salaries.

Steamboat Springs School District is becoming less competitive in the hunt for great staff. When we compared salaries to the other ten well-performing districts in our group, our teachers' salaries place anywhere from 1 percent to 6 percent below the mean. We often find ourselves in the painful situation of interviewing for positions only to have our top one or two choices turn the position down after seeing how their salaries would compare to the cost of living and housing prices in Steamboat. Seven ski resort school districts in the state have already voted mill levy overrides to try to remain competitive in the search for quality staff. Of these districts, it's no surprise that Aspen has the highest per-pupil-override funding of $1,683. What is surprising and frightening is that Steamboat comes in dead last at $405.

The mill levy override issue will go before the voters in November. If this passes, the funds will be used to attract and retain quality staff. The Steamboat Springs School Board has decided that our first priority is to bring our staff up to the mean of our comparison districts. The next priority would be to give raises in the future to try to maintain a competitive salary position in this market. The remaining dollars would be allocated as competitive compensation in order to address a variety of problems we are facing. To attract teachers to our district, funds could be used to provide a relocation allowance, affordable housing, or bonuses to be able to hire certified teachers in hard-to-find areas such as Mathematics and Special Education. To retain experienced and qualified teachers, we may also be able to explore alternative compensation programs, 401K programs, compression of the salary schedule, or reinstatement of insurance benefits that have been cut back in recent years. The exact allocation of these funds will be decided by the Board and staff through the Interest Based Bargaining process.

I know that our community values education. Passing the mill levy override (3C) in November would result in our district being more competitive in the tight education market, and the additional tax rate would be offset by the retirement of our 1989 bonds. This would result in no tax increase.

Please vote yes on 3C to maintain the tradition of quality education in our high-performing district. Our community and students deserve this.

Denise Connelly is president of the Steamboat Springs School Board and a former teacher.

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