Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs School District says it’s working to fix a five-year-old error in its teacher pay schedule that has led to several teachers with master's degrees earning less than some experienced teachers who hold bachelor's degrees.
And some of the teachers who hold the higher-level degrees are frustrated by what they see as a flaw in the pay scale that is costing them money out of every paycheck. They hope the district soon offers them an equitable solution.
The problem also has the teachers, and some School Board members, worried the current salary schedule is deterring some staff from continuing their education and earning a master's degree.
District officials and Babette Dickson, the head of the district's teacher's union, said Monday that no staff members have lost any money as a result of the oversight, and that the district is close to fixing the problem.
“It was not by design that this happened,” Finance Director Dale Mellor said. “We compressed the MA columns more than we compressed the BA columns, which caused this problem.”
He said the largest gap that exists between the salary of a teacher on the higher bachelor's steps and a comparable step on the master's columns is about $1,900 a year.
“These teachers have all gotten raises,” Mellor said about the affected staff members who have master's degrees. “Nobody has lost any money.”
Mellor said when the schedule was compressed in 2007 to allow teachers to reach the top of the salary schedule sooner, the district never intended to create the situation that exists today where some teachers on the middle and high ends of the bachelor's degree pay scale earn more than some teachers on the low and middle-end of the master's pay scale.
The problem became apparent after bachelor's-level teachers were last year given pay increases to bring their salaries up to to a median determined by a salary survey of comparable school districts. The same survey found the master's salaries were at the market value.
The error stems from the district not making a comparison between the higher end of the bachelor's pay columns with the start of the master's pay schedule, Mellor said.
There are about 47 teachers who hold master's degrees and are affected by the oversight in the schedule. They have been passed on the salary schedule by high-level bachelor's degree teachers.
Ann Coon, an elementary Spanish teacher who has been with the district for 11 years, said she brought the problem to the district and the School Board's attention in February when she discovered she was earning about $1,000 less than a comparable teacher on the bachelor's salary schedule.
She said the current pay scale is discouraging to teachers like herself who made a personal investment of $7,000 to $10,000 to obtain the higher degree.
“I would hope they make it attractive financially for teachers to get that higher level of education,” Coon said. “It makes me sad to have teachers say, 'I looked at the pay scale and it isn't worth it for me to get the master's.'”
Mellor said the district has been negotiating with the teachers union over the salary schedule, and the district's proposed fix will be presented to the teachers at a meeting Tuesday.
Any solution would have to be accepted by the teachers and then approved by the School Board.
Mellor declined to discuss the details of the proposed fix before it was presented to the teachers.
“We're trying to fix the problem without costing the district a lot of money,” Mellor said.
Reached last week to discuss the negotiations, Superintendent Brad Meeks said the district was close to offering a solution.
Mellor said the proposed fix would cost the district less than $1,000 a year to implement.
Like Coon, Steamboat School Board President Brian Kelly said the flaw in the salary schedule could deter some teachers from pursuing master's degrees.
“It's disappointing because you don't want that unintended consequence,” Kelly said. “You want your teachers to have motivation and financial incentive to acquire an additional degree and to go after their master's and go after their Ph.D.”
Teachers in the district earn pay increases based on how long they've served, as well as their level of education.
"It was more of a math problem than anything else," Dickson said about the issue. "I think it's premature to think there is a problem and somebody is losing money over this."
School Board Vice President Denise Connelly said the district and the board need to ensure the salary schedule is working as intended by incentivizing teachers to continue their education.
“What we want to do as a board is make sure this doesn't happen, that things like this don't happen, and we have some double checks and we send it through a process to make sure someone is checking,” she said. “I think we definitely need to look at (the salary schedule) and make sure it aligns with our philosophy of rewarding our teachers and getting the best qualified teachers for our students.”
Mellor said the district knew of a problem with the salary schedule before this year, but the district was able to make salary adjustments on a case-by-case basis as teachers moved from the bachelor's to the master's column.
He said the hole in the salary schedule went unnoticed for years likely because the differences in pay started out much lower than they are today.
“When we compressed the schedule, it was a few hundred bucks at most,” he said. “Now the discrepancy is large enough for us to notice.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com