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Vail Valley teachers face wage freeze

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Ruth Moroney’s grateful to have a job next year.

Like all employees in the Eagle County School District, though, the Brush Creek Elementary librarian will take a hit to the wallet. Moroney would have qualified for a bonus the district gives to teachers who work in the district for 18 years. However, an early draft of the teachers’ contract for 2010/11 calls for eliminating that longevity bonus.

“They had to do what they had to do,” Moroney said. “I’m just sorry it happened when it was my turn but that’s the way it goes.”



As teachers brace for a variety of proposed cuts next year, several employees said the situation could have been worse.

“I feel very fortunate that our district is, financially, in as good of shape as it is,” Moroney said. “We’ve had minimal impact on the layoff of teachers.”



The district plans to eliminate 50 staff positions for next school year. Only 8 1/2 of those jobs are empty because of layoffs, Human Resources Director Jason Glass said. The rest are vacant positions the district won’t fill, he said.

Teachers this week got a glimpse of a preliminary agreement between the local teachers’ union and school officials. Tentative plans call for eliminating various bonuses, trimming stipends and enacting what is basically a wage freeze for teachers.

Amy Niswanger, a librarian at Eagle Valley High School, voiced a concern about changes to the performance pay system for teachers.



A smaller bonus will be at stake for teacher evaluations and student test scores. Niswanger questions whether the performance pay system will be as effective.

“I’m just wondering if teachers will take their evaluations as seriously,” she said. “The goal of evaluations is to become a better teacher. I’m wondering if there will be less incentive to get better.”

This year, teachers were eligible for bonuses of up to 8 percent of their salaries, based on teacher evaluations and gains in student test scores. That included two separate bonuses, each worth up to 4 percent, one bonus for evaluations and another for test scores.

Next year, teachers will be eligible for a single bonus of up to 4 percent of their salaries, based on a combination of evaluations and test scores.

Separately, the amount teachers received in bonuses for evaluations and inflation this year will be included in the teachers’ base salaries next year.

Ashley Weaver, a social studies teacher at Eagle Valley High School, isn’t too concerned about the wage freeze.

“I’m thankful to have a job that’s consistent and I understand there are changes that have to be made in these economic times,” she said.

As for the changes to her performance pay, she said, the decrease in the amount of money up for grabs is not significant.

“We’re really only talking about a difference of $100 or $200 for an entire year. You take taxes out of that,” she said. “Really, I’m not going to get that bent out of shape about it.”

An expected $3 million drop in state funding for next year has clouded negotiations between the teachers union and school officials. The district also expects a $1 million spike in health insurance and pension costs.

Education leaders are gearing up for talks on one of the most controversial topics: health insurance premiums.

Currently, a single employee pays $104 per month toward the health insurance premium, while the district pays $509, Glass said. For a family, the employee pays $687 per month, while the district pays $1,030, he said.

The school board is expected to vote on the teachers’ contract in late May.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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