Eagle County Schools and teacher’s union reach final negotiations agreement | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Schools and teacher’s union reach final negotiations agreement

The deal allocates over $7 million to fund equitable increases in staffing and compensation

The new agreement between the Eagle County School District and the Eagle County Education Association strikes a balance between increasing staff across the district and increasing compensation.
Eagle County Schools, Special to the Daily

On May 12, Eagle County Board of Education unanimously voted to approve the latest agreement between the district and its teachers’ union. This is the second and final phase of negotiations between the two parties as the school year comes to a close.

The first attempt at an agreement was struck down in March because the board felt it didn’t equally invest funds in both staffing and compensation. This agreement, however, according to both Superintendent Philip Qualman and Eagle County Education Association President Karen Kolibaba, strikes that balance well.

“We appreciate how the board has been focused on providing both a competitive salary to recruit and retain the highest quality educators for Eagle County students as well as a commitment to providing adequate staffing to meet the needs of their students through quality instruction in both content area courses and electives/specials classes,” Kolibaba said.

After going back to the drawing board in April, the negotiations team — which is comprised of administrators from Eagle County Schools and representatives of the Eagle County Education Association — reached an agreement to determine how $1.7 million in one-time, unassigned funding would be spent. This first phase was passed and ratified in April after a month of tense negotiations.

While the first phase determined how the district would spend one-time funds, the second phase distributes ongoing funds received from the School Finance Act. Although the Colorado state legislature is still finalizing the bill, the district is confident enough with the current projections to reach an agreement.

“I just want to thank everybody, all the staff, who worked with us through this long process. We know it wasn’t as smooth as it has been in previous years, but I think we came up with a really good result and we are able to actually provide more than we would have in the first go-around,” said Kate Cocchiarella, president of the Eagle County School Board.

Dollar by dollar

The agreement reached by the negotiations team — and approved by the board on May 12 — allocates $7.54 million in funds from the School Finance Act as well as $336,000 received from a Colorado Employer Benefit Trust dividend. In order to be enacted, the agreement faces a vote from members of the teacher’s union.

The district received a CEBT dividend of $520,065 due to a low usage of health insurance from March to June 2020, because of the COVID-19 shutdown. The district will keep the remaining $184,065 not used in this agreement in unassigned reserves until needed.

With the $336,000 allocated from the dividend in this agreement, the district will distribute it as follows:

  • $136,000 will go to issue a refund to staff members who paid health insurance premiums between March and June 2020. The average refund will be $204.
  • $150,000 will be allocated to the district to absorb an anticipated 10% increase to district employee’s health insurance premium.
  • $50,000 is to be spent to retain the district’s wellness coordinator position, currently held by Dana Whelan. According to the agreement, this position adds value “as the district continues to manage the fallout from the global pandemic.”

The $7.54 million allocated from The School Finance Act will fund a number of staffing, curriculum and compensation needs for the district.

A portion of this — $400,000 per year — will be spent to update curricular resources for staff and students. “We have underfunded curriculum in recent years and have now, with Renee Westenfelder, a robust process to include staff and teachers, and their voice and their input, as we determine what curriculum needs can be improved,” Qualman said. “Our curriculum future looks bright.

A portion of these funds, approximately $2.1 million, will be used to make four strategic investments in staffing. This includes moving custodians from school management to district management, freeing up funds to be used in schools for instructional purposes; adding four district-level custodians; adding two positions to the transitional program within exceptional student services; and adjusting the staff-to-student ratio in middle schools to more adequately meet the needs of students.

Across the board, the district is also allocating $1.46 million to improve staffing ratios by .7%. This ratio includes all staff at a school, not just teachers. At each school level, this will mean better staff-to-student ratios; overall, it will translate to 18.29 new full-time staff members across the district.

Another significant portion of the funds — approximately $2.47 million — will go to improve compensation to staff. This includes a .73% increase in base pay on the step and lane salary schedule for certified teachers and counselors. This increases the base pay from $42,798 to $43,110, effective in the first paycheck of the upcoming school year.

It also provides a 3.95% increase to the salary of all district employees who are not already maxed out. For those district employees that are maxed out, they will receive a one-time cost of living payment that is 3.95% of their 2020-2021 pay.

“It is a modest improvement, but it is an improvement and something we’ll keep an eye on in the future to make sure we’re competitive with other districts,” Qualman said.

Kolibaba echoed this sentiment. “While we feel that this agreement is balanced and fair, we would like to see both the district and [the Board of Education] commit to working to ensure that Eagle County offers the best salary in comparison to our neighboring communities,” she said. “We want the highest quality educators to be able to live in Eagle County in order to serve our students and we need the district’s support to make this a reality for our community.”

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