Eagle County Schools, teachers’ union reach agreement for one-time staff bonuses
After being sent back to the drawing board in March, the negotiations team was able to reach a decision on how to spend the $1.7 million in unassigned funds
Eagle County School district and its teachers’ union reached an agreement after months of tense negotiations. The teachers union has been fighting for an increase in staff salaries while the school board has been seeking funding for additional staff.
“It’s a long process and it’s been a bit of a rocky one this year,” said Kate Cocchiarella, president of the Eagle County school board. “We’re all on the same team. What we want is what’s best for the students and what’s best for the students is having high-qualified teachers who are happy in their jobs and in the classrooms.”
In March, the school board struck down a proposed agreement that advocated for one-time bonuses and pay increases for staff and hiring additional employees.
The primary reason the motion was nixed was that it included a distribution of both one-time moneys and ongoing funds. The ongoing funds come from the School Finance Act and the state has yet to finalize the budget. Voted down 4-3, the majority of school board members did not feel comfortable committing to distributing funds that were unknown.
After the measure was voted down, the negotiations team comprised of district administrators, principals and teachers went back to the drawing board to come up with an agreement for the one-time funds only.
“We met April 7 and spent the first portion of the meeting really focusing on the foundations of interest-based bargaining as an alternative to more conditional or adversarial negotiations,” said Phil Qualman, the district’s superintendent. “In that first portion of the meeting, we did a lot of listening, we did a lot of venting, we did a lot of expressing of frustrations and concerns, but ultimately, we got those feelings out … and agreed to move forward.”
The agreement reached by the negotiations team determined how $1.7 million in unassigned funding — from cancellations and reductions as a result of the pandemic and unfilled positions — will be spent.
According to the measure, $1.128 million will go toward funding a one-time compensation adjustment of $1,000 to all Eagle County Schools’ employees. Employees hired before December 14 or part-time employees will receive a bonus of $500. This includes all staff members from principals and teachers to support staff, bus drivers, custodians and paraprofessionals.
The remainder of the funds will go toward funding new state-mandated curriculum:
- $412,000 will help elementary schools purchase the new K-12 state-approved literacy curriculum in both English and Spanish
- $160,000 will be used to compensate elementary teachers for two days of training in August on the new literacy curriculum.
After unanimously passing the school board at the April 14 meeting, it also passed a vote from the Eagle County Education Association members to ratify the agreement. District employees are set to receive these bonuses on April 23.
“We are happy so far that we are able to do a salary compensation, a salary adjustment, and reward all of our employees,” said Karen Kolibaba, a fifth grade teacher at Gypsum Elementary and president of the Eagle County Education Association. “Every single one of our employees has done a wonderful job prioritizing student needs and student learning, first and foremost. And so, it’s very nice to have that recognized.”
The next negotiation will take place on May 5 and determine what to do with ongoing dollars from the School Finance Act. The negotiations team is hoping to have a clearer picture of the state’s budget by this date. “We don’t know exactly what those dollars are, but in principle we are in agreement about many of the elements of what Phase 2 will look like,” Qualman said.
According to Kolibaba, some of the elements being requested by the teachers’ unions are salary increases, cost of living increases or increases to the base salary. The board of education would also like to use the funding for additional staff, according to notes from the March 10 board meeting.
“Eagle County educators are hopeful, that through the negotiations process, we will be able to honor the steps and lanes salary schedule that was agreed upon in 2019,” Kolibaba said. “Due to the unforeseen circumstances surrounding the pandemic last year, ECEA had agreed to a 1.9% increase to our base salary. We are also hopeful to increase the base salary for certified teachers and have other employees receive a commiserate percentage raise to their salaries as well.”
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.