Agreement for bonuses, raises and new hires in Eagle County Schools sent back to the drawing board |

Agreement for bonuses, raises and new hires in Eagle County Schools sent back to the drawing board

From left to right back, teachers Amy Husk, Noemí Sánchez-Ortíz and Michelle Lovejoy welcome students back on the first day of school in August at Avon Elementary School in Avon.
Chris Dillmann

A proposed agreement reached by Eagle County Schools and its teachers’ union aimed to strike a balance between one-time bonuses and pay increases for staff and hiring additional employees. But the measure was voted down by the district’s board Wednesday night.

The two-part agreement was reached by a negotiations team including district administrators, principals and teachers.

The first part focused on what to do with $1.7 million of unspent funding from a variety of budget line items that saw expenditures decline or money go unspent this school year, in large part because of pandemic impacts and grant funding that materialized to help cover costs.

Under the agreement, that funding would have been used to provide a one-time bonus of $1,000 to all school district employees, with prorated bonuses for part-time employees, at a total cost of about $1.1 million.

The rest of the unspent funding would have been used to replace the elementary literacy curriculum throughout the district to meet new state mandates, at a cost of $412,000, and to pay for teacher training on the new curriculum at a cost of $160,000.

The second part of the proposed agreement, totaling about $6 million, focused on the upcoming 2021-2022 school year and the use of new, ongoing funding.

It would have provided 3.22% pay increases for all district staff, at a cost of $2.4 million, helped the district pay for increasing employee health insurance premiums, at a total cost of $1.1 million, and paid for curriculum purchases totaling $400,000. It also would have:

  • Increased staffing by 2.75 full-time equivalent positions in the middle schools, at a cost of $220,000;
  • Increased staffing to support older students ages 18-21 with moderate and severe needs by 1.5 full-time equivalent positions, at a cost of $120,000;
  • Shifted custodial expenses from individual schools to the central district, to provide for a more consistent district-wide approach and free up about 20 positions throughout the district’s 17 schools that could be used for classroom instruction and support, at a cost of $1.6 million;
  • And hired four new district-wide custodians to help cover recurring staffing shortages, at a cost of about $167,000.

Board members wrestled with the proposed agreement’s balance between providing much-deserved bonuses and pay raises for staff, after one of the most challenging years in public education history, and the district’s need to hire additional staff to improve working conditions and serve students, as it continues to try to claw back from recession-caused layoffs a decade ago.

The proposed measure was voted down 4-3, as a majority of board members ultimately said they want to see the negotiating team take another crack at the agreement with a greater emphasis on providing additional staff.

The negotiated agreement was supported by board members Kate Cocchiarella, Ted Long and Michelle Stecher, and opposed by Fernando Almanza, Kelly Alter, Michele Jarnot and Lucila Tvarkunas.

“I think the board of education gave our negotiations team clear feedback,“ Superintendent Phil Qualman said after Wednesday’s meeting. “We need more staff to improve working conditions. They were very clear to express gratitude and support for all staff and the remarkable job they’ve done this year, but want to be sure we address salary and staffing.”

The negotiations team will meet again in April to try to strike a new balance between funding for staff compensation and funding to pay for additional staffing.

It’s a balancing act that school districts around the state are continuously facing, and one of the benefits stemming from the pandemic is that teachers enjoyed smaller class sizes. That resulted in better relationships between teachers and students, reduced discipline referrals and enhanced learning, said Dan Dougherty, spokesman for Eagle County Schools.

“To achieve smaller class sizes and/or improved support from non-certified staff requires more funds to be allocated toward staffing and less allocated for increases in compensation. In the end, we expect a balanced approach that allows for more staff while still providing an increase in compensation,” Dougherty said.

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