School board approves salary increase and improved working conditions for teachers
The Eagle County Schools Board of Education on Wednesday night approved the agreement negotiated between the district and the Eagle County Education Association with some minor changes.
The agreement not only provides a salary increase for certified personnel in the district (which mainly includes teachers), but also significant changes to the collective agreement, which defines the working conditions of certified personnel. Many of the changes to the collective agreement are aimed at giving teachers more time to do their job.
This year, negotiations between the district and the teachers’ union took place from January and the group reached a final agreement on May 4.
Before the changes take effect, the agreement will still need to be ratified by a vote of members of the Eagle County Education Association. This should happen before June 1.
“We have met many nights and long hours to reach this agreement and I thank them for their cooperation on this and their commitment to reaching an agreement,” Superintendent Philip Qualman said at the school board meeting. of May 25.
One of the big challenges in the negotiations this year was to obtain a salary increase that was satisfactory to both parties. For each side, the recruitment and retention of educators is a priority to provide salary increases. But for the teachers themselves – many of whom work second and third jobs – it goes much further.
“I wish my colleagues and I were in a situation where we don’t have to worry about money, bills, rising gas costs, cost of living, mortgages, student loan repayments or saving money for our children’s tuition,” said Doug Little, one of the local bargaining association representatives, at the March 29 meeting. know this is never going to go away, as we are humble servants and have chosen an underfunded and underpaid profession, but it would be nice to at least feel more secure financially.”
While the association has long pushed to raise the base salary for teachers to $50,000, budget constraints continue to prevent the district from reaching that level. Through two rounds of bargaining this year, the base has begun to move closer to the $50,000 goal.
The most recent agreement adjusts the base salary on the certified staff salary scale from $45,000 to $47,160. All certified staff will also receive a step on the salary scale equivalent to a 3.22% increase, as well as a cost of living increase of 2.77%.
The bargaining team was also able to increase the teachers’ total compensation by adding four additional contract days. Although Qualman clarified that this is not technically a raise, it does increase total teacher compensation by 2.1%.
Overall, since the beginning of the school year, these most recent compensation increases — added to the 4.38% increase made in January — bring the total compensation increase for certified personnel to 12.4 %.
“It’s a pretty big commitment to our certified staff, and I think it’s a sign that this board appreciates the work they do,” Qualman said.
However, while certified staff make up about 50% of school district employees, the most recent increases require 75% of new funds for next year’s budget, Qualman said.
With the remaining 25%, the district plans to provide a 3.5% raise to its other employees and/or market adjustments, as appropriate, for its hourly employees, he added.
Combined, these increases will require the district to spend $6.8 million of the available fund balance.
“We can’t afford to do this every year going forward, which makes this deal unsustainable,” Qualman said. “We hope and believe that the State Legislature is committed to reducing the fiscal stabilizer factor in the coming years, and through our continued advocacy to better fund our schools, we believe we can support that at the future, but we have to be very cautious and prudent in your budgeting next year to ensure that our finances remain sound.
This year, the bargaining process also focused on the collective agreement, which was to be revised this year. Overall, Qualman said this process resulted in more than 40 changes — some larger than others — to the agreement.
The revised collective agreement – once it receives final approval from the association – will be renewed until June 30, 2025.
Throughout the school year, the district heard from teachers and principals, surveys, and its district accountability that teachers needed more time to do their jobs.
“We are losing educators faster than we can fill jobs and we need to make the teaching profession manageable so teachers can do what they are passionate about and teach the students in front of them,” said Katie Leibig, one representatives of the local association in negotiation, during the meeting of February 9. “Unless we make changes to the structures of how we give people time to do their jobs, the burnout rate is going to continue to rise.”
Many of the changes to the collective agreement were made to ensure that teachers have more time not only to plan, but also for whatever the job demands of them. These included:
- The four additional contract days, which include an additional teacher planning day, an additional professional development day, and two flex days. These flexible days, equivalent to 16 hours, are available for teachers to use at their discretion for planning, grading, etc.
- Reassigning one of the four Professional Learning Community meetings (which take place during the late Wednesday start) for teacher-led planning time.
The agreement also gave the association new rights, including the right to have time to speak with new staff members at the start of the year and the right to distribute materials to them. It also included giving the association 20 days to distribute among association members to use for association business such as lobbying at the state capitol and more.
The recently revised agreement has better defined the rights of teachers with regard to freedom of expression and political engagement.
“We want them to be involved citizens, and we want them to understand that the action is supported by this organization,” Qualman said.
In addition, two changes have been made to help employees move up the pay scale faster. The salary scale allows certified personnel to progress through the scale based on study hour credits and years of service.
The revised agreement will now allow certified personnel to receive credits on the district professional development calendar. Every 15 hours they complete with the district will count towards earned credit. The second change grants elementary teachers who have received the new Read Act certification three credits for track advancement on the schedule.
Qualman called both of these changes “very significant.”
The Board of Directors unanimously approved this agreement with only minor suggested changes. One change was simply to clarify the wording and another was to reduce the number of days allowed for negotiations from 10 to 5.
As Colorado faces — like the rest of the country — a looming shortage of educators, Qualman seemed confident the new deal and pay increases will keep Eagle County schools “competitive in the state.”
“It demonstrates that ECSD values and empowers our educators through compensation and their contract language,” he said.
Journalist Ali Longwell can be reached at [email protected]