Steamboat Springs High School social studies teacher Bob Stahl talks to his class about post-Civil War America during his class Tuesday afternoon. District administrators anticipate employee salaries to be frozen for the 2009-10 school year. However, teachers will be allowed step increases based on experience.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs High School social studies teacher Bob Stahl talks to his class about post-Civil War America during his class Tuesday afternoon. District administrators anticipate employee salaries to be frozen for the 2009-10 school year. However, teachers will be allowed step increases based on experience.

School District's cost-of-living pay raises may be frozen next year

Step increases will be allowed based on experience

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— Steamboat Springs School District employees may not get a cost-of-living pay increase next year, but district administrators are hopeful staff will not see pay cuts, either.

Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said at a Steamboat Springs School Board meeting Monday night that she expects cost-of-living salary increases to freeze next school year. Staff, however, still would receive step increases based on their experience.

The decision is not official because it has not been approved through the collaborative bargaining process with school employees.

School Board member Laura Anderson agreed that it does not look like the district will be able to afford cost-of-living raises for the 2009-10 school year.

"A lot of it is up in the air as far as if the state is going to make big changes with per-pupil funding," she said. "That's all a part of crafting a budget."

Last year, district teachers, staff and administrators received a raise of 0.5 to 3 percent, which included cost-of-living raises and step increases.

The state Legislature has not passed its annual education bill that determines the amount of state funding school districts will receive for each student. The bill must be finished by the time the Legislature adjourns in May, and administrators are hopeful the news could come as soon as the end of April.

Anderson said she also does not anticipate any cuts in salaries or the number of teachers employed.

"Everybody's trying to be optimistic but conservative at the same time," she said.

The economy also has created uncertainty in the budget for next year, leading board member Denise Connelly to call for a contingency plan for the district's finances.

"I keep hearing that we're proceeding on track, but I would feel more comfortable with plan A and plan B, depending on what might happen in the future, so we can act in a rational responsible way no matter what comes," she said.

Connelly said this was not the first time the district has implemented a salary freeze in an economic downturn.

Ann Keating is an executive board member for the Steamboat Springs Education Association, the local teacher's union. She said she was not yet aware of any decisions to freeze salaries, and she did not want to comment until the teachers' bargaining team has had a chance to talk with administrators.

BOCES in similar boat

Jane Toothaker, executive director of Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services said none of the six districts in the BOCES area has announced raises for its staff, and most are freezing salaries or cutting employees.

Because salaries for the 50 BOCES employees in Grand, Jackson, Moffat and Routt counties are determined based on an average of the composite member districts' salaries, the BOCES board announced March 12 that BOCES salaries also will remain frozen for the next school year.

Even so, if the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or state Legislature directs more money toward Northwest Colorado schools, Toothaker said, the BOCES board would reconsider the decision.

"To tell you the truth, it's hard to know what to expect this year," she said. "We're unsure what the final outcome of the legislative session will be, and if the districts decide to increase (salaries), then we will increase."

Toothaker said BOCES, with 25 employees in Steamboat Springs, does not plan on cutting any staff positions but may reduce the number of workdays to save money.

"We're going to hold tight," she said.

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