Vail Daily column: Making ends meet
Last Friday, schools in our community dismissed students and teachers for winter break. I’d venture to say almost everyone was looking forward to some time off with family and friends and the chance to enjoy the winter beauty and activities our valley provides.
One of the advantages of the teaching profession is the frequency and duration of school breaks. While the time off is indeed a perk, let’s examine the time teachers commit to their professional the rest of the year and the compensation they receive. This analysis is particularly important in the context of the cost of living here in Eagle County.
A number of national studies have pinned the average work week of teachers at around 53 hours. Breaking that down, teachers spend roughly eight hours per day engaged in instructional and student supervision duties. Added to this, most teachers spend another one to three hours per day planning, grading or providing student feedback. Teachers also tend to spend another one to two hours per day engaged in some kind of extracurricular duties (as sports coaches or club advisers, for example) or providing additional instructional support for students (advising, writing reference letters and the like.)
On weeknights, weekends and during many breaks, it’s not uncommon to see our teachers supporting students at sporting events, performances, concerts, graduations and other school functions — layering on even more hours.
And those summers off? Yes, they are wonderful and our teaching staff looks forward to it. However, most teachers spend between two and four weeks in some form of continuing education (56 percent of them eventually earn an advanced degree), improving their instructional skill or content expertise. They also spend around three to four weeks getting ready for the school year to begin, planning lessons and participating in meetings and trainings.
Our starting teachers, fresh out of college, make $37,624 per year. Teachers do get decent medical and retirement plans on top of this. But in terms of what they get to make ends meet on a monthly basis, we’re talking about a net amount (after taxes and deductions) of roughly $2,500 per month.
A recent study by a national realty firm identified Eagle County as the most expensive housing market in the United States. A quick look at the classified ads for apartments (single and shared) in the Edwards area shows an average rent of around $1,000 per month per bedroom.
This means that a beginning teacher is putting somewhere around 40 percent of their monthly pay toward rent, leaving about $1,500 per month for everything else (food, clothing, insurance, uncovered medical needs, transportation, bills, etc.).
It is small wonder why we have a teacher attrition problem in Eagle County. It is an even smaller wonder why we lose so many talented teachers as they consider renting or buying enough housing space to have a family of their own. We are currently conducting an internal study on this issue of losing teachers due to financial reasons.
Based on preliminary data, we estimate that the economics of living here were a factor in about 40 percent of the teachers who left Eagle County over the past two years. Our community also gets it on the front end of the hiring equation. We estimate that somewhere between 25 percent and 30 percent of those teachers we offer jobs to end up refusing to accept due to cost of living issues weighing heavily in that decision. Too often, once job candidates get a look at the pay levels in comparison to the cost of living, a significant number of them turn us down in favor of less expensive areas.
Anyone who lives in our valley understands the trade-offs associated with making Eagle County home. For most people, that includes an understanding that you are going to trade square feet for square miles — meaning the housing economy forces us into smaller and more modest accommodations, but the active lifestyle and abundant natural beauty make the trade worth it.
Everyone needs an adequate, reasonable and stable base wage to make a go of it here. Colorado’s low education funding levels, coupled with the challenges of our local housing market, make that a stretch for many of our employees, especially our teachers.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.