Eagle County School District board approves salary increase that reaches above $50,000 base

This has been a long-held target for the district and teacher’s union as it struggles with retention and recruiting

Representatives of the Eagle County School District and Eagle County Education Association reached an agreement in May that — if ratified by the union — will bring starting salaries for educators to $50,500.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

On Wednesday, May 24, the Eagle County School District Board of Education unanimously approved a negotiated agreement that will bring the starting salary for certified staff to $50,500.

The agreement was reached on Tuesday, May 16, during an annual negotiations meeting between the district and Eagle County Education Association teams. These negotiation teams are comprised of teachers as well as a regional representative of the Colorado Education Association on the union side and of district leadership and principals on the district’s side. A federal negotiations facilitator and commissioner helps guide all mediation.  

While the negotiations team discusses all working conditions for staff, compensation was the main topic at this year’s meeting, according to Superintendent Philip Qualman.

“Our priority this year was to adjust compensation such that Eagle County School District can remain competitive with other Colorado school districts. There are 178 school districts in the state, and we’re always compared to them in terms of salary as we’re trying to recruit from a smaller and smaller applicant pool every year,” Qualman said.

During this year’s negotiations, the two groups reached an agreement, which increases the base starting salary for certified staff — which includes teachers, counselors and special services providers — from $47,160 to $50,500 for the first paycheck of the 2023-24 school year. All educators on the salary schedule — which provides salary increases based on years of service and continued education — will move down one step on this schedule, which is a 3.22% increase in salary.

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Qualman said that this increase reflects an “8% to 10% raise for all certified staff depending on where they are on that salary schedule.”

On average, certified staff will receive a 9.61% raise per the agreement.

A draft of the salary schedule for certified Eagle County School District employees for the 2023-24 school year. This draft was approved by the board of education on May 24 and will be formalized if the local teacher’s union also votes to ratify the negotiated agreement.
Eagle County School District/Courtesy Photo

Additionally, the agreement stipulates that all other employee groups — which includes bus drivers, custodians, nutrition staff, administrators, principals and more — will also receive similar compensation adjustments. Using the average for certified staff, all other employee groups will receive a 10% raise.

Getting above the $50,000 starting salary mark for educators has been a long-held goal of the district and teachers. Last year amid negotiations, the local teacher’s union brought the board a petition with over 400 signatures asking to hit this target. This was not the first time the request was made, with a similar request in 2019.

However, in both instances, the district responded that it did not have the funds to make it happen without putting the district’s finances at risk.

While finally hitting this mark seems like a win, Qualman acknowledged that in the time it took for the district to hit it, “unfortunately, other districts have made progress toward that $50,000 base.”

“If we were to reach $50,000, we would still not be in the top ten in Colorado, which has been our goal and kept us competitive,” Qualman said. “We think that that extra $500 pushes us above that pack that have been striving for $50,000 and keeps us competitive so that we can try and be in the top 10.”

However, this new base salary wasn’t met without some financial compromises being made. Qualman noted that the cost of this negotiated agreement is $6,182,512 and was met by the district spending into its reserves. The state requires that school districts maintain a minimum fund balance of its reserves that is 3% of its total budget. Even with spending into the reserves to make these salary increases, Qualman said the district would still have a 6% fund balance.

While some of the board members expressed their concerns about how the compensation adjustment will impact the fund balance, they agreed that it was the right thing to do.

The need, Qualman stated was in retaining and recruiting quality educators, which has long been a challenge for the district. Currently, he said the district has 100 unfilled positions in the district.

“(Having) 100 vacant positions across the district has been incredibly taxing on our staff. We all feel it, in every single department there are vacancies and everyone has picked up the slack. So, we have got to do everything we can to recruit people to our community and retain the great people that we have,” Qualman said.

This year, while the negotiations primarily targeted compensation adjustments, it did also clarify some language around what qualifies as professional development — which can help educators move lanes on the salary schedule — as well as moving a few professional development days on the school calendar.

On Wednesday, Qualman also acknowledged that there were some requests from educators that the district and its budget were still unable to meet. This includes adjustments to coaching stipends, which he said haven’t been adjusted in a number of years, re-classifying the para-educator positions in its exceptional student services department as well as creating a hiring stipend in the same department, which have been “extremely hard for us to fill,” according to Qualman.

Qualman said that the negotiations teams plan to revisit these items at future negotiations, tentatively planned for January 2024. At this time, there could be additional revenue for the district as a result of fall counts and the November election, during which the district is considering putting a question on the ballot to increase local funding.

“It’s unfortunate we had a pretty big wish list of things I think are really important and things that I wish we could provide, but unfortunately, here in the state of Colorado, our lovely, beautiful, wealthy state, that does not fund our education properly, our hands are sort of tied,” said Kelly Alter, one of the school board members.

Alter added that while she hopes the district can get more dollars in the future, she said the board and district were “throwing everything that we can at our teachers and trying to retain the wonderful ones we have and recruit new teachers.”

“Hopefully, this will be a step in the right direction,” she said.

After the agreement was approved by the board of education, it will now face a vote to ratify the agreement by the Eagle County Education Association membership before it goes into effect.

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