Eagle County teachers get pay raise | VailDaily.com

Eagle County teachers get pay raise

Matt Terrell
Vail CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO ” With teachers leaving by the dozens because they can’t afford ski-country living, the big pay raise approved Wednesday by the Eagle County School Board was definitely a needed one, says Todd Huck, a teacher at Berry Creek Middle School.

Every year, you can expect a mass exodus from the school district. And while teachers leave for a variety of reasons ” retirement, career change, poor performance ” the largest number leave because of pay. After a few years of working second jobs and living with roommates, it makes sense to move to a better-paying school district, Huck said.

School leaders hope the raises will help keep teachers in the school district and attract new ones who might be scared off by our high cost of living, said Jason Glass, human resources director for the district.

Teachers, school staff and administrators will receive a 2 percent pay raise this January, and they’ll receive a 2 percent raise for the 2008-2009 school year as well.

Teachers with Master’s degrees will receIve a $2,000 lump payment in January. And starting in the 2008-2009 school year, teachers with a master’s degree will have $3,000 added to their base salary.

The board also approved a new system of paying athletic coaches and sponsors of academic programs like band and student council.

In the 2005-2006 school year, the average teacher salary in the district was $45,406 ” not even $1,000 over the state average in an area with a much higher cost of living.

Huck, who is also president of the Eagle County Educators Association and helped negotiate the deal, said the raises aren’t a fix-all solution” but they are a big help.

“It’s a big win for all the employees,” Huck said. “I don’t know many people that can make it here unless they’re working two jobs. This could alleviate the need for some of those jobs.”

The school district staff is a very young staff. Many of these teachers are fresh out of college or with a couple years experience, and many came here for the same reason you did ” to ski, hike and bike.

Eventually, the cost of living in Eagle County catches up with them.

“Teachers ski a couple years and realize at 25, 26, they’re tired of living with three roommates, and they move somewhere else,” Huck said.

It’s an effect especially seen during spring hiring, when the district has had to rope in anywhere between 54 and 95 new teachers, which includes newly created positions.

And when schools start hiring new teachers, they find it’s hard to compete with other school districts that can offer better pay with lower costs of living.

Turnover is not a good thing for schools, Glass said. Mainly, it takes away consistency.

Perhaps that nice teacher who ran the Spanish club one year will be gone the next. That teacher who ran the after-school math tutorials, the one who really made progress with your child, might be gone. The teacher you wanted for AP English next year says good-bye, and now there’s a new face, someone who’s new to the school and doesn’t know you.

It’s also tough for the other teachers staying at a school. Much of their success comes from the weekly group planning sessions they have where teachers discuss lessons, share stories, test theories and learn from mistakes.

“We need some veteran leaders here,” Glass said. “We have people come here as new teachers, we train them well, then they take that knowledge and go to Denver.”

It all contributes to the sinking morale that’s been felt at the school district over the past couple years, and the pay increase will definitely boost spirits, Huck said.

“This shows the district really values them as employees,” Huck said.

The school district has been in great financial shape for the past few years, and that’s the main reason the raises are possible. The district’s 2006-2007 audit shows there are $1.5 million in unspent funds that year, and the board decided the money would be best spend on salaries.

Even with these pay raises, Eagle County will still have a tough time keeping and hiring teachers. While the school district is showing it wants to pay teachers what it can without going bankrupt, Colorado continually disappoints educators with funding, Huck said.

“Our district is really making an effort to work with what we can afford,” Huck said.

“Colorado though is always ranked near the bottom in paying for public education. It should be embarrassing for people down at the capitol.”

Meanwhile, school districts in other resort towns like Lake Tahoe in other states are able to pay teachers much better, Glass said.

“We’re effected with the exact same pressures all those resort areas have in hiring teachers, but you can go to Park City and Lake Tahoe and make 30 percent more money. The funding formula they get is that much better,” Glass said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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