Praise to the Steamboat Springs School Board for its recent decision to increase teacher salaries by 2 percent. Of course, it was a difficult decision to make considering the financial constraints of the past four years. Our state’s financial shortfalls are no secret, nor will our economic problems be easily solved.
Just last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper recommended cuts to K-12 education for next year that would equate to a shortfall per student of $425. Proposition 103 was pushed by the state in the November election to cover expected shortfalls in education funding. Proposition 103 failed.
But with the recent uptick in state tax revenues, it was suggested that these funds are no longer needed? Let’s be clear that one uptick in state revenue, especially during the holiday spending season, does not make a trend. Revenues aside, our schools also are experiencing rising expenses that are not variable, like last year’s 18 percent increase in health care costs, a 6 percent increase in PERA and rising utility costs.
Regardless of the current economic realities, if I were on the Steamboat School Board, I would have done exactly the same thing. What a great opportunity to use this feel-good moment to increase the pay of one of our most undervalued assets, our educators. Two percent was too little in my opinion. Today we ask more from our teachers than in the past. Our class sizes are on the rise with increased enrollment while the number of teachers and classrooms remains static. We also are putting more pressure on our teachers to add new skill sets to our educational standards, requiring additional training and time on their part. For instance, teachers are required to attend 45 (voluntary) hours of technology training to “get” a Smart Board in their classrooms.
They should be paid more because they are doing a lot more. In the private sector, a 2 percent increase in salary is not even considered a cost-of-living adjustment and would be considered an underperformance increase. In fact, the Social Security Administration just announced a 3.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment for 2012. Increasing pay to our educators is an investment in our community, and the School Board did the right thing regardless of our current financial pinch. Good schools equals good economics, and we certainly need both.