Vail Daily column: Straight talk on teacher pay | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Straight talk on teacher pay

Jason E. Glass
Valley Voices

I'm often asked about how much teachers make in Eagle County and how that compares to other parts of the state and the nation. Research indicates (and common sense confirms) that teachers are the largest in-school factor affecting student achievement. So, attracting and retaining quality teachers is a key leverage point for any school organization seeking genuine greatness.

The average teacher pay in Eagle County Schools is $49,060 in salary and the starting pay level (for a brand new teacher) is $38,376. The average teacher pay in the Colorado is $51,802.

One way to think about this number is to benchmark it against other comparative salary levels for districts we compete with for teachers. The national labor market for teachers tends to be state specific — meaning that teachers tend to stay in one state and don't usually look across state borders for opportunities, though there are certainly exceptions.

Thinking about our context in Eagle County, we typically gain and lose teachers to Front Range metro districts. Let's look at average teacher pay in some of those districts (and the difference from Eagle County's average).

Average pay Difference

• Adams 12 5-Star Schools: $57,561 (-$8,501)

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• Boulder Valley School District $77,574 (-$22,514)

• Cherry Creek School District $67,939 (-$18,880)

• Douglas County School District $51,274 (-$2,214)

• Denver Public Schools $50,247 (-$1,187)

• Jefferson County $54,922 (-$5,863)

• Littleton $64,739 (-$15,679)

• Pourdre School District $53,383 (-$4,324)

• St. Vrain Valley School District $52,941 (-3,881)

Benchmarking against these districts, our teacher pay in Eagle County is $9,227 less than the average of these districts.

We also tend to gain and lose teachers to other resort mountain communities. Let's compare those numbers (again, with the difference from Eagle County's average):

• Aspen $56,776 (-$7,716)

• Roaring Fork $49,497 (-$437)

• Steamboat Springs $52,915 (-$3,855)

• Summit County $55,711 (-$6,652)

• Telluride $55,856 (-$6,796)

Compared to this group, Eagle County Schools' teachers lag behind an average of $5,091 annually.

Sometimes, people wish to compare Eagle County's salaries against all the districts in the state instead of using this benchmarking approach. I'd argue that analysis is misleading. Colorado has 178 school districts. That number includes places such as Brush, Del Norte, Elbert and La Junta — all of which are very small prairie and valley communities with very low cost of living issues.

Taking La Junta (the East Otero district) as an example, teachers there on average earn $38,318 annually. Comparing Eagle County to La Junta in teacher salary makes us look good. But, we aren't losing teachers to La Junta.

A quick search of available three-bedroom, two-bath homes in La Junta reveals a range from $25,000 to $295,000, averaging just $123,000. Of course, Eagle County has no three-bedroom homes available at these prices. In fact, a recent study from a national realty firm identified Eagle County as the most expensive housing market in the nation comparing earnings to costs — our community outpacing even the New York City and San Francisco areas in this analysis.

The point here is that salaries exist in the context of cost of living — and it doesn't make sense to compare communities that are just in different orbits when it comes to living expenses.

Total compensation is another form of analysis that looks at costs related to things such as health and retirement plans in addition to salary compensation. This approach is useful in understanding the entire compensation package educators make. Typically, we figure benefit costs at 33 percent on top of salary when budgeting for total compensation costs. Schools are required to offer health and retirement plans — it's not an optional expense we can cut.

Educators in Eagle County are fortunate to have reasonable health coverage and to be covered under Colorado PERA for retirement, though these plans are expensive. While the costs associated with these benefits are real, that compensation doesn't help us much with the main problem associated with teaching and living in Eagle County — the housing costs, which can only be covered by what comes home in the paycheck.

Conversations around educator pay in Eagle County have been tied to the chronic teacher turnover issue in our community. Looking historically, Eagle County Schools averaged a much higher teacher turnover rate than state and national averages (which are generally under 17 percent annually). Again, here are the facts:

From 2001-2007, our district had one of the highest turnover rates in the state, averaging 22 percent. In more recent years, we've trended above the state average in teacher turnover as well until just this past school year.

When I was hired in 2013, our teacher turnover rate was 21 percent. One of the key priorities given to me by the Board of Education was to improve staff morale and trust. I believe we have done this and I'm pleased that our teacher turnover rate for the last school year was just over 13 percent, an 8 percent reduction from when I started. I think this improved turnover rate also indicates a commitment by our teachers to their schools, students and this community. Many work multiple jobs or have small independent businesses of their own to supplement the income they make from teaching, just so that they can afford to live here.

While one year does not make a trend, I'm proud of the progress we've made in creating a positive culture for employees in Eagle County Schools. Our employees are talented, dedicated, hard-working professionals. Time will tell if we're able to keep reversing the trend on teacher turnover — an area that has been of critical concern for our schools.

Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at jason.glass@eagleschools.net.