Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs Education Association, the local teachers union that represents many Steamboat Springs School District teachers and staff, has been relatively quiet leading up to the November election.
Not anymore, said SSEA president and middle school science teacher Brad Kindred.
"How would you feel if your salary was dependent on a public vote?" Kindred asked last week.
Referendum 3C asks voters to absorb a tax increase of $600,000 in 2007 and an annual tax increase of $25,000 a year through 2015 to fund teacher salary increases and help attract and retain quality staff members.
The $600,000, which would appear on next year's tax bill, is the maximum amount that can be collected above the existing 2006 tax collections. The reason for the annual increase is to account for the expected annual rise in cost-of-living expenses. The maximum amount collected would be $800,000, which will be reached in 2015.
If 3C is approved, taxpayers would notice little change to their existing property tax bills because the $600,000 in proposed mill levy override funds would replace a 1989 bond that expired in December 2005. The owner of a $450,000 home would pay $926 a year in property taxes related to school issues if 3C and 3D - the $29.7 bond issue for Soda Creek and Strawberry Park Elementary schools - pass.
"I think (Steamboat voters) are getting a pretty good deal," said Rudy Andras, vice president of fixed income banking for RBC Dain Rauscher, Inc., the financial firm the district has used for nearly a decade.
Performance-wise, Steamboat Springs is in the top third in the state based on Colorado Student Assessment Program results. Pay-wise, it is in the bottom third, at least in comparison to nine similar Colorado school districts. Steamboat's beginning teachers make $31,382 a year, which is nearly $1,000 less than the average starting salary of teachers in the nine districts Steamboat compares itself to, including Cherry Creek, Aspen and Douglas County. The nine districts have similar demographics and/or school-performance levels.
The discrepancy between's Steamboat salaries and the nine-district average increases for more experienced and better-educated teachers.
All salary figures, including those from the comparable districts, were compiled by the Steamboat Springs School District.
Several of the nine districts also are places that Steamboat has lost teachers to.
During the past five years, the high school has experienced an 80 percent turnover rate. Nearly one-quarter of the staff at Strawberry Park Elementary is new this year.
When talking about teacher turnover, Kindred equated Steamboat to a minor-league baseball team producing top prospects that Major League Baseball teams can steal at any time.
"This is an issue SSEA has been hounding on for 10 years," Kindred said. "We've become a great farm-league district. New teachers come out of school and work for us for three years. We give them great background, and they leave and get paid more at Cherry Creek or Smoky Hill."
But the SSEA didn't endorse Referendum 3C until the Steamboat Springs School Board recently said its priority for spending the mill levy override funds would be to bring existing staff salaries up to the mean of the nine comparable districts. Superintendent Donna Howell said doing so would cost about $210,000 of the proposed $600,000 to be collected next year, if 3C passes.
An additional $240,000 would be used to keep salaries competitive, Howell said, and the remaining $150,000 would be used for such expenditures as teacher relocation funds and housing allowances. The district has never offered such benefits to new or existing teachers.
"As the needs change, this allows us to make those changes as necessary," board member Pat Gleason has said. "We've never offered relocation allowances or talked about signing bonuses for critical areas because we've never had the dollars to do it."
A previous mill levy override passed by voters in 2001 generates $773,000 every year. That money was used for a one-time, across-the-board salary increase but has not been able to fund cost-of-living wage increases since then.
Kindred said the SSEA initially was skeptical of throwing its support behind Referendum 3C because of what happened in 2001, but School Board President Denise Connelly has said the priority is to raise salaries in the immediate future. The 2006 mill levy override funds would specifically be for attracting and retaining quality staff, although the specifics remain unclear.
"It's all about the pie and how much pie there is," Kindred said. "We were just really concerned that the pie would get bigger but the portions would not. : We have to keep our people. It may not be the best thing at this point, but it's the best thing we've got. I'm afraid if it doesn't pass, we will be in dire straits, which is upsetting to me politically."
During a Friday night general membership meeting of the SSEA, most of the 55 attending members threw their support behind referendums 3C and 3D, Kindred said, adding that teachers believe the School Board will do the right thing with the funds.
But whether the two sides ultimately agree on how that money is spent likely won't be known until the collaborative bargaining process begins anew next year.