Teachers union, Eagle County Schools reach agreement on a slight compensation increase

While it’s not the salary increase teachers were seeking, other agreements are reached on working conditions

Annual negotiations between the Eagle County School District and the Education Association of Eagle County wrapped up Wednesday night after five months of discussions and debates.
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Annual negotiations between the Eagle County School District and the Education Association of Eagle County wrapped up Wednesday night after five months of discussions and debates. The negotiations team had its last meetings Tuesday, May 3, and Wednesday, May 4.

Following the Wednesday, May 4, meeting, the negotiations team reached agreements on a slight compensation increase as well as on certain working condition adjustments to address certain educator challenges.

These agreements will next face discussion and a vote from both the district’s Board of Education and the association’s membership. The board is expected to vote on the agreements at its May 25 meeting, and will be passed to the association for a vote if approved. If not approved, the agreements will face further negotiations.

Negotiations were particularly tense this year as the two sides continued to debate how to allocate the dismal state education resources to address growing industry-wide challenges within education.

“We’re reaching a tipping point where we’re just not going to be able to retain anyone, or most of our teachers, because people are getting priced out,” said Doug Little, one of the teacher representatives for the Eagle County Education Association, at the May 3 meeting. “I think we’re really at the point of desperation.”

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Starting in January and going through May, the full negotiations teams from both parties — which includes local teacher representations from the association and a state representative from the Colorado Education Association as well as district administration and principals — met each month to discuss ways to address these current challenges.

Additionally, a smaller group of representatives from each side met more regularly to hash out details and smaller changes to the collective bargaining agreement, which was up for a full review this year. Ultimately, all these changes were brought before, and agreed upon by, the full negotiations team.

Amid a particularly challenging year for educators and schools, the negotiations team had also met in the fall to raise compensation and find more time for teachers. In September, the team amended the collective bargaining agreement to allow principals the latitude to redistribute the agreement’s mandated 75 minutes a week of professional learning community time, giving time back to teachers for planning.

And in December, an agreement was reached and approved to increase the base salary on the district’s Certified Employee Salary Schedule from $43,110 to $45,000 — a 4.38% increase to base salary. Incremental increases will be applied across the salary schedule based on the existing steps and rates. This certified employee salary schedule dictates salaries based on years of service and education credit hours.

However, even with these fall changes, compensation and working conditions remained the main topics of conversation during the annual spring negotiations.

The association has long pushed to get the base salary for certified staff up to $50,000. In February, it presented the board with a petition to raise the salary to this amount. In 2019, it had made the same ask of the board.

However, statewide funding challenges have prevented the district from reaching the $50,000 number — although it has made small moves toward it, as previously noted.

There were big hopes that the state education funding formula would see big changes during this year’s legislation. As the session wraps up, however, it seems unlikely to happen.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, during a budget presentation to the negotiations teams, it was announced that there are fewer new financial resources expected than initially hoped, leaving little new money — around $4.8 million — with which to spend on compensation increases to educators as well as the other support staff not represented in negotiations.

“This feels like a drop in a bucket for the problem we’re trying to solve — the unfilled positions, the colleagues leaving …” said Lindsay Hawkins, one of the Eagle County Education Association Representatives.

Representatives on both ends of the negotiations team lamented on the challenges of Colorado’s education funding system on Tuesday.

“We can’t continue to bear the cost of losing good people or exhausting people in a system that’s not compensating them or giving them the time that they need, because the system’s broken,” said Superintendent Philip Qualman. “We can’t martyr ourselves to that extent. Hear me say that we are pushing on a bigger lever, which is going to require our community to support us.”

This bigger lever, he said was beginning research on a mill levy override question, of which the district has proposed budgeting $40,000 for researching and polling in the fall.

“At the end of the day, the best way that we are able to make a significant change in what we’re able to compensate our employees is a mill levy override,” Qualman said.

However, association representatives still pushed back as this could take years to go before voters, highlighting the importance of making progress now.

“We understand that it’s very difficult to live here, we understand the state of education in Colorado, we understand that the district does a great job at trying to honor the teachers and support staff,” Little said on May 4. “We know this is happening, but we still have to find ways to do more because of the situation we’re in.”

Hawkins also emphasized this point, simply saying: “We have to make something better. We have to move the needle.”

Ultimately, some of the changes to the collective bargaining agreement reached by the negotiations team included:

  • Shifting every fourth professional learning community day to a teacher planning day
  • Giving credit for certain professional development opportunities to put toward salary schedule advancement within the district
  • Adding additional contract days to increase the days specified for teacher work time as well as to increase the base salary
  • Introducing a proposal for these contract days to include two “flex days,” or 16 hours, with which teachers can use throughout the year at their discretion on non-contract days for work

There was also an agreement reached to increase the base salary on the certified schedule.

These proposed agreements still face Board of Education and Association membership votes before finalized. A discussion of all proposed changes to the collective bargaining agreement is expected to take place at the board’s May 25 meeting.

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