School board approves salary increase, working condition improvements for teachers |

School board approves salary increase, working condition improvements for teachers

Agreement brings total compensation increase to 12.4% for school year

During negotiations, representatives from Eagle County Schools and the Education Association of Eagle County worked to reach agreements on salary and working conditions.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

Eagle County Schools Board of Education on Wednesday night approved the negotiated agreement between the district and the Eagle County Education Association with some minor changes.

The agreement not only provides a salary increase for the district’s certified staff (which primarily includes teachers), but also significant changes to the collective bargaining agreement, which defines working conditions for certified staff. Many of the changes to the bargaining agreement are aimed at providing teachers with more time to do their job.

This year, negotiations between the district and teacher’s union took place starting in January, and the group reached a final agreement May 4.

Before the changes go into effect, the agreement will still need to be ratified by a vote from the Eagle County Education Association membership. This is expected to occur before June 1.

“We came together many nights and many long hours to get to this agreement and I thank them for their collaboration on that and their commitment to reaching an agreement,” said Superintendent Philip Qualman at the May 25 Board of Education meeting.

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One of the big challenges in negotiations this year was reaching a compensation increase that satisfied both parties. For each side, recruiting and retaining educators is top of mind for providing salary increases. But for teachers themselves — many of which hold second and third jobs — it goes much deeper.

“I’d like my colleagues and myself to be in a situation where we don’t have to worry about money, worry about bills, worry about the cost of gas going up, cost of living, worry about mortgages, worry about paying off student loans or saving money for our kids tuition,” said Doug Little, one of the local association’s representatives in negotiations, at the March 29 meeting. “I know that’s never going to go away, because we’re humble servants and we chose a profession that’s underfunded and underpaid, but it would be nice to at least feel more secure financially.”

While the association has long pushed to get the base salary for teachers to $50,000, budgetary constraints continue to prevent the district from hitting this mark. Through two rounds of negotiations this year, the base has started to creep toward the $50,000 goal.

The most recent agreement adjusts the base salary on the certified staff salary schedule from $45,000 to $47,160. All certified staff members will also receive one step on the salary schedule equal to a 3.22% raise, as well as a 2.77% cost of living increase.

One other way that the negotiations team was able to increase total teacher compensation was by adding four additional contract days. While Qualman clarified this is not technically a raise, it does increase total teacher compensation by 2.1%.

Overall, since the beginning of the school year, these most recent compensation increases — alongside the 4.38% increase made in January — bring the total compensation increase for certified staff to 12.4%.

“That’s a pretty significant commitment to our certified staff, and I think a sign that this board values the work that they do,” Qualman said.

However, while certified staff comprise around 50% of the school district’s employees, the most recent increases require 75% of the new moneys for next year’s budget, Qualman said.

With the remaining 25%, the district plans to provide a 3.5% increase to its other employees and/or market adjustments where appropriate for its hourly employees, he added.

Combined, these increases will require the district to spend $6.8 million of the available fund balance.

“We cannot afford to do that every year going forward, which makes this agreement unsustainable,” Qualman said. “It is our hope and our belief that the state Legislature has commitment to buying down the budget stabilization factor in coming years, and through our continued advocacy to better fund our schools, we believe we can support this into the future, but we need to be very cautious and conservative in our budgeting in the next year to make sure we keep our finances healthy.”

Working conditions

This year, the negotiations process also centered around the collective bargaining agreement, which was up for review this year. All in all, Qualman said this process brought about over 40 changes — some more significant than others — to the agreement.

The revised collective bargaining agreement — once it receives final approval from the association — will be renewed through June 30, 2025.

Throughout the school year, the district has heard from teachers and principals, from surveys and from its district accountability that teachers need more time to do their jobs.

“We’re losing educators faster than we can fill jobs and we need to make the teaching profession manageable so teachers can do what they’re passionate about and teach the students that are in front of them,” said Katie Leibig, one of the local association’s representatives in negotiations, at the Feb. 9 meeting. “Unless we make some changes to the structures of how we give people time to do their jobs, the burnout rate is just going to continue to grow.”

Several of the changes to the bargaining agreement were made in order to ensure teachers had more time for not only planning, but all that the job requires of them. These included:

  • The four additional contract days, which include one additional teacher planning day, one additional professional development day and two flex days. These flex days, equivalent to 16 hours, are available for teachers to use at their discretion for planning, grading, etc.
  • Re-allocation of one of every four professional learning community meetings (which take place during Wednesday’s late start) for teacher-directed planning time.

The agreement also gave the association new rights including ensuring time to speak with new staff members at the start of the year and a right to distribute materials to them. This also included giving the association 20 days to split among association members to use for association business such as lobbying at the state Capitol and more.

The newly revised agreement better defined teachers’ rights with regard to free expression and political engagement.

“We want them to be involved citizens, and we want them to understand that action is supported by this organization,” Qualman said.

Additionally, two changes were made to help employees more quickly advance on the salary schedule. The salary schedule allows certified staff to move up the schedule based on credit hours of education and years of service.

The revised agreement will now allow certified staff to receive credit on the schedule for professional development in the district. Every 15 hours they complete with the district will account for one credit earned. The second change allows elementary school teachers that have received the new Read Act certification three credits for lane advancement on the schedule.

Qualman called these two changes “quite important.”

The board unanimously approved this agreement with only a few minor suggested changes. One change was simply to clarify language and another was to reduce the number of days allocated for negotiations from 10 to five.

As Colorado faces — like the rest of the country — a looming educator shortage, Qualman seemed confident that the new agreement and compensation increases will keep Eagle County Schools “competitive in the state.”

“It stands as evidence that ECSD values and empowers our educators through compensation and through their contract language,” he said.

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