Tenure no longer protects Eagle County teachers | VailDaily.com

Tenure no longer protects Eagle County teachers

EAGLE, Colorado – Under a new state law, tenure will no longer protect teachers when job cuts start coming.

The Eagle County school district is projecting a $5.5 million budget shortfall next year and under a worst-case scenario presented to the school board late Wednesday night, most of that money could come from staff cuts. The school district spends 80 percent of its budget on salaries and benefits, district officials said.

The district needs to keep its salary spending at $28 million, and that has to come from its $50 million general fund, said Phil Onofrio, the school district’s chief financial office.

For now, the school district has the equivalent of 887 full-time jobs, 497 certified teachers and 390 non-certified staff.

If that worst-case scenario becomes reality, elementary school classrooms would swell to around 30 students, district officials said.

The new financial reality hits as changes are sweeping the state in teacher evaluations. Colorado’s new teacher effectiveness law changes teacher retention from a tenure-based system to performance evaluations.

“No longer will a teacher be able to say I met expectations and I’m good to go,” said Dr. Brian Childress, the school district’s human resources director.

Job security is no longer a matter of tenure. It will be based on performance evaluations, Childress said.

Teachers who don’t measure up are placed on probationary status.

Once they become probationary, they’re subject to dismissal, Childress said.

“That is a seismic shift,” Childress said.

The job cuts won’t likely come from the maintenance staff or special ed faculty. More maintenance cuts would undermine the district’s ability to provide basic maintenance on the buildings, district officials said.

The gifted program could see some cuts because it’s a program the district chose to provide, said superintendent Dr. Sandra Smyser. Special education is required and federal guidelines might not allow them to cut it, Smyser said.

The cuts won’t come from closing or consolidating elementary schools, either. The school board voted Wednesday not to close any elementary schools. That would have saved $450,000 per school annually.

The school district also spent $750,000 on performance pay bonuses last year, something the board will look at in upcoming meetings.

Teachers and staff are paid up to 2 percent of their annual salary as a bonus – if they meet performance criteria including student achievement – instead of lock-step raises based solely on years of service, Childress said. The system has been in place for almost 11 years, Childress said.

“That has shifted the culture of the district away from solo practitioners to groups of teachers,” Childress said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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