Bargaining agreement gives $210K in raises to district staff | SteamboatToday.com

Bargaining agreement gives $210K in raises to district staff

Mike McCollum

Veteran school bus driver Jim Stockton chats with students while waiting to pick up more students at the high school Monday afternoon. The Steamboat Springs School Board voted Monday night on whether to give "hard-to-fill" positions in the school district a pay increase next year. Some of the positions that have been difficult for the district to fill include those of bus drivers, custodians and maintenance staff.

A Collaborative Bargaining Team agreement approved Monday by the Steamboat Springs School Board will put an additional $210,000 into the pockets of teachers, administrators, support staff and hard-to-fill positions.

The proposal, which also was approved last week by Steamboat Springs School District staff, is the result of an unexpected enrollment increase of about 100 students this year that infused more than $400,000 in state funds into the school district.

The Colorado Department of Education uses final enrollment numbers as of Oct. 1 of each school year to determine how much funding each district receives per student, often referred to as per pupil operating revenue, or PPOR.

The Collaborative Bargaining Team proposal is retroactive to the beginning of the 2007-08 school year and builds upon an agreement approved by the School Board in June that granted $475,860 for better salaries and benefits to certified and classified staff.

The new agreement provides an additional 1 percent salary increase to all certified staff, including teachers and administrators. Classified staff received a 2.5 percent increase, while hard-to-fill support staff positions, such as bus drivers, severe needs aids, custodians and maintenance staff, received a 5 percent increase. Staff will see the pay increase beginning with March paychecks.

“I would hope that the additional money for hard-to-fill positions works toward providing a better wage for these people who are very important in our district,” said School Board President Robin Crossan, who was part of the negotiations.

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Collaborative Bargaining Team member Brad Kindred, a Steamboat Springs Middle School teacher and former Steamboat Springs Education Association president, likened the process to divvying up a pie.

“We only have a certain amount of pie,” he said. “Who gets what pieces and how much is time consuming and often contentious at times. If there is new enrollment, it should go to the people it affects – that is teachers, administrators, bus drivers. Everybody should get a little piece.”

When Dale Mellor, the district’s director of finance, first updated the School Board in October about the extra PPOR funds, board members refused to commit the money toward staff salaries.

“There was never a written contract or agreement about where that money would go, but verbally it was discussed,” said Crossan, who joined the School Board in November. “We honored the verbal conversation.”

Interim Superintendent Sandra Smsyer said school district staff expected the pay increase because of precedent set by previous bargaining agreements.

“In two prior years, it had been written down, so people had thought it had been this time, but it wasn’t,” she said. “It caused some confusion.”

The Collaborative Bargaining Team is working on a proposal for the 2008-09 school year, which Crossan said should go before the School Board in June.

Kindred said it’s “only right” that money from increased enrollment is given to staff members, who must do more work because of the additional students. He added that increasing salaries is essential to attracting and retaining educators in Steamboat Springs, where keeping experienced staff has been an uphill battle because of the area’s high cost of living.

“We have lost a lot of our experienced teachers. Our kids and our community takes a hit every time we do that,” he said. “It’s no secret it’s been difficult to (staff) the hard-to-fill positions. If you ask why, well, it’s because of what they are getting paid. We’ll throw money at it first, assess it next year, and if we need to, we can do other things.”