New teachers face uncertain futures in Steamboat |

New teachers face uncertain futures in Steamboat

School district could cut budget by nonrenewal of probationary contracts

Jack Weinstein

— Morgan Peterson understands the reality of her situation.

In her second year as an art teacher at Steamboat Springs High School, she's one of many "probationary" teachers in their first through third years with the Steamboat Springs School District. It's a status that suddenly, because of needed budget cuts, could place Peterson's job in jeopardy.

At last week's Steamboat Springs School Board meeting, Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said the district would look to reduce staff through attrition — about 10 staff members have indicated they will retire after the school year — and through not renewing contracts of some probationary teachers.

The staff reductions would help the district address a projected $2 million shortfall in the 2010-11 budget. The shortfall is based on a decrease in state funding, estimated at 8 percent; a decrease in gifts from the Education Fund Board; and increased costs of the district's health insurance and retirement benefits for employees.

Peterson, 27, said she and other probationary teachers know there is a possibility they may not be back next year.

"It's a scary situation," she said last Thursday. "Everyone's scared right now."

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State statutes don't provide guarantees for teachers who have yet to complete their third year.

Colorado Revised Statutes state: "During the first three school years that a teacher is employed on a full-time continuous basis by a school district, such teacher shall be considered to be a probationary teacher whose employment contract may be subject to nonrenewal."

The statute continues to state that the superintendent may recommend the School Board not renew a probationary teacher's contract "for any reason he deems sufficient."

Cunningham couldn't say Thursday how many probationary teacher contracts might not be renewed.

"I don't have that number right now," she said.

Human Resources Director Anne Muhme said the district has 64 probationary licensed staff members, which include teachers, counselors, media specialists and other positions. That's more than one-third of the district's 185 licensed staff members. Muhme said neither number includes licensed staff at the North Routt Community Charter School.

Muhme said there are three ways the district could reduce staff. It could not renew licensed staff, as Cunningham has said. It could lay off classified staff, such as secretaries or custodians, who are at-will employees and don't have contracts. Or the district could implement its "Reduction in Force" policy to lay off non-probationary teachers who have more than three years with the district.

The district has not indicated it will lay off non-probationary teachers. But the Hayden School District last month declared a state of fiscal exigency, the first legal step to implement its "Reduction in Force" policy. Fiscal exigency basically means a district can't meet its budget because of declining revenues or increased costs.

The South Routt School Board last week discussed declaring fiscal exigency, but didn't take formal action. That School Board requested that it be added to its March 17 agenda for further discussion.

Declaring fiscal exigency doesn't mean a district will implement the "Reduction in Force" policy and lay off teachers, but it's the first step to do so.

Staying positive

Peterson said Cunningham and Steamboat Springs High School Principal Kevin Taul­man presented the 2010-11 budget and the possibility that some probationary teachers' contracts may not be renewed to staff about six weeks ago.

She said some teachers are updating their résumés and others already have started looking for new jobs. Peterson said things are still uncertain, but she thinks that Cunningham and Taulman have been honest, are providing as much information as they have and have been approachable when teachers have questions.

Peterson has been in this position before. She came to Steamboat Springs after her part-time position as an art teacher at Yosemite High School in Oakhurst, Calif., was cut. That doesn't make things easier, Peterson said, but she's trying not to worry about what she can't control.

"I'm trying to be really positive about (it) and not try to jump to too many conclusions," she said. "We don't know. If I look too far ahead and have a negative outlook, it would affect my teaching."

Steamboat's School Board will host a budget workshop March 15 at the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street. It will begin at 6 p.m. with an hour-long executive session before a two-hour budget discussion begins at 7 p.m.

Finance Director Dale Mellor won't present a preliminary 2010-11 budget for board approval until June. Cunningham has said the district could find out in May how much revenue it will lose from the state for the next school year. But she has said the district would like to inform any teacher whose contract won't be renewed for next school year by April 1.

Peterson said that would be a sad day for the district.

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail

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