Vail Daily column: Welcome our new teachers
Seventy-one. That is the number of new teachers Eagle County Schools is hiring this year due to the combination of staff attrition from last year (retirements, resignations, terminations) and new student growth (we expect about 100 new students, district-wide, for this upcoming school year).
Out of the 71, 12 came from Eagle Valley High School alone — owing mostly to the large growth in student enrollment we’ve seen there over the past couple of years.
Across the whole organization, we will have 477 teachers next year and 944 total employees (including guest/substitute teachers).
The district-wide number of 71 is down slightly from previous years, but reflects an all-too-familiar pattern for Eagle County Schools, as well as practically all other businesses and organizations in the community.
One recent study by the real estate industry, highlighted in Business Insider magazine, gave Eagle County the dubious distinction of being the most expensive place to live in the United States when comparing average wages to average housing costs — ahead of New York and San Francisco area costs.
Don’t get me wrong — Eagle County is an amazing place to live and work. When Sarah (my wife) and I decided to relocate, this community was first on the list for the wonderful lifestyle it offers and the quality environment for our kids. But all that comes with a major trade-off that all permanent residents feel when it comes to wages vs. housing costs.
Last year, we conducted an internal study of our workforce mobility and found that about 40 percent of teachers who leave us each year point directly to cost-of-living issues as the reason. We also found that about 25 percent of those we offer jobs to end up turning us down, once they see what it takes to live here.
Rents are high in our community (more than $200 per month more than Denver-area averages), but that doesn’t tell the full story of the scarcity of affordable housing. Reasonably priced rental units last not days, but hours, on the market.
Our first-year teachers make a salary of $38,376. Those coming in with more experience can earn up to $46,051. These numbers do not include other compensation coming in the form of health benefits and contributions to retirement — but those fringe areas don’t make much difference when it comes time to pay the rent or the gas bill. Regular expenses are paid out of take-home wages.
We also benchmark ourselves against other Front Range and resort-area school districts to keep an eye on our wage competitiveness. Currently, the average teacher in Eagle County Schools earns about $10,000 less than our competitor districts on the Front Range and $6,000 less than other mountain-resort communities.
We work hard at recruiting and retaining quality teachers and staff and leverage both the quality-of-life aspect as well as the fact that (because we believe in empowering our professionals) Eagle County Schools is a great place to work. While we think we’ve got something special here, that does not completely mitigate the math that people do when it comes to what they earn and what living here will cost.
We have more than our fair share of bright, talented and energetic people working as educators in our community — but we also suffer from a degree of churn resulting from people giving up on making the budget work here.
This fall, the Eagle County Schools Board of Education is considering a ballot proposal that would make a real and significant dent in this decades-long problem for our community. While I’m prohibited from encouraging you to vote for or against anything on the ballot, I can tell you that this infusion of new revenue would significantly change the equation in terms of our ability to recruit and retain quality teachers and staff.
So, let’s welcome our new staff to the community and work to make them feel welcome. They were selected over hundreds of other applicants, and we have a very strong group of new teachers this year.
But, let’s also not forget what they are sacrificing to be part of this community — and to honor and support their personal and professional dedication.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.