Vail Valley Voices: Schools chief won’t share pain | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Voices: Schools chief won’t share pain

Tanya Caruso
Vail, CO, Colorado

Given Colorado’s miserable outlook on education funding now and in the near future, and the difficult financial time in Eagle County when people are losing benefits, are under-employed, and losing their jobs, we are dismayed and deeply disappointed that our superintendent has chosen to accept a hefty bonus and a corresponding pay increase.

Our negotiating team, comprised of teachers and administration, including Superintendent Sandra Smyser, was charged with cutting $4 million from our school district’s budget for next year.

Through a collaborative process, we accomplished that goal with the idea that everyone would make sacrifices and everyone would feel some pain in order to cause as little disruption and negative impact as possible to our students. Below are some of the many sacrifices being made.

• Staffing will be reduced districtwide by approximately 50 full-time equivalent positions for the upcoming 2010-11 school year.

• Major cuts in career longevity and PERA affecting 110-140 retired employees will be realized.

• Salaries for new hires to the district will be reduced approximately 2 percent.

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• Supplemental pay for coaching and additional sponsorship duties will be reduced by approximately 2 percent.

• Master and mentor stipends will be reduced by 10 percent for the 2010-11 school year.

Among the painful pieces of our negotiated agreement was a reduction of employee bonus pay. Teachers now have a maximum bonus earning potential of 4 percent (although 2 percent is more likely), down from the previous year’s maximum of 8 percent, along with a pay freeze.

Dr. Smyser, however, accepted a large 7.25 percent bonus, including 20 percent of that bonus as a salary increase.

Eagle County School District employees have an opportunity for a 4 percent bonus; Dr. Smyser receives a 7.25 percent guaranteed bonus. Employees have a pay freeze; Dr. Smyser has a salary increase.

Surprisingly, the leader of our school system is not “taking one with the team.”

The current turn of events is particularly disheartening. We, the Eagle County Education Association, have spent a huge amount of time and energy developing what we considered to be an excellent working relationship with the district administration. Five years of relationship building is in jeopardy.

Leaders in other districts such as Cherry Creek, Jefferson County, Boulder, and Summit counties all have demonstrated loyalty to their district employees and are leading by example because they have forgone their bonuses and/or pay increases.

Our superintendent’s actions show a lack of solidarity with her employees, which frankly, is insulting. These actions do not send a positive message to the employees of Eagle County Schools.

Tanya Caruso is the president of the Eagle County Education Association.