School district and teachers reach agreement

Salary increases to be implemented next school year

by Mark Reaman

The local teachers of the Gunnison Watershed School District will be getting a raise next school year. The district struck a deal this week with the teacher’s association that will result in a base salary increase of 3.3 percent and a one-time $700 bonus next fall.

The average teacher salary in the district will move up to more than $51,000 with the increase. Overall, the impact on the district is an additional $1.3 million.

According to a joint press release issued Monday, the “Gunnison County Education Association and Gunnison Watershed School District teams came to agreement on multiple items during this year’s annual negotiations process which concluded Friday, May 10. Although Colorado ranks in the bottom ten states in education funding, the state’s recent funding of full day kindergarten and a decrease to the negative factor resulted in a boost to 2019-2020 per-pupil District funding. This allowed for continued efforts to bring the local teacher salary schedule to more competitive levels.”

The negative factor is a tool the state continues to apply to the School Finance Act to reduce funding for students to lower than what is required by Amendment 23 (which requires that education funding track with inflation). This year’s negative factor, though smaller than last year’s, still reduces total funding to the district by $1,321,050, which takes per-pupil funding down to $8,362 from a calculated $8,996.

District business manager Tia Mills said the additional $1.3 million for salaries translates to “8.2 percent in total salary/benefit costs to the district when including salary, Medicare, PERA retirement contributions, and health, life and dental insurance costs. The personnel costs for fiscal year 2020 totals 80.9 percent of all general fund expenditures, which is a decrease from fiscal year 2019 when salary/benefit costs were 81.9 percent of all general fund expenditures.”

Mills also said the district spent $181,492 in fiscal year 2019 on funding full-day kindergarten and three full-time employees through its mill levy override funds. Mills said those costs and the full-time employees have been moved to the general fund for fiscal year 2020.

Under the new agreement the entry level salary for a teacher in the district will increase to $38,495, from $37,265. Teachers returning to the district will also receive an annual 2 percent step on the teacher salary schedule. The step method rewards teachers for experience, and teachers can also increase their salaries by increasing their education. After this latest raise kicks in, the average teacher salary in the district will be $51,441.

Due to unexpected Rural Funding passing in the state legislature again this session, all district staff except for top administration will receive a one-time payment of $700 in the November 2019 pay period.

The teachers’ negotiating team expressed gratitude that the negotiations ended in the right direction but said it is still a tough row to hoe. According to their numbers, the Gunnison Watershed School District currently had an average teacher salary of $48,230—12 percent lower than the state average of $54,950. That is despite this county being on the extreme high side of cost of living in the state, coming in 11th out of 178 school districts.

When compared to teachers’ salaries in similar resort communities such as Telluride and Steamboat, the Crested Butte and Gunnison teacher compensation is on the low end.

The negotiating team said the salary increase also would help make the starting teacher salary more competitive, although it is still one of the lowest in the state. It was pointed out that first-year, single teachers in our district qualify for affordable housing; however, they do not qualify for a loan to be able to purchase the affordable housing.

“It is always welcome news when we can keep the teaching profession in our valley continuing to make progress towards closing the gap with our cost of living,” said school district superintendent Leslie Nichols. “The state legislature did some good work for education this session; that combined with this district’s careful budgeting practices during this past decade of inadequate funding allows us this year to focus on our personnel—without question our most important asset.”

Gunnison County Education Association president Liz Mick said the contract hopefully sets up the teachers for next year and into the future. “Through interest based bargaining we were able to clearly define the needs of the employees of this district and build a strong foundation for the future,” she said. “The funding of education in the state has remained an issue for as long as I have been negotiating. I am hopeful that the state will assure additional funding to education in the years to come.” 

The agreement also was adjusted to include into the master agreement special service providers such as the school nurse and counselors. Coaches will get a raise based on the position’s workload and teachers are now able to use accrued annual leave for bereavement.

Next year’s negotiation efforts will include a study of district salary schedules to evaluate their structural effectiveness, as well as a closer look at the district’s professional development strategies.

“The Crested Butte Community School was named the fifth best high school in the state by U.S. News and World Report,” said Betsy Kolodziej, a teacher representative on the negotiating team. “This is a tremendous honor and is one that has been accomplished, in part, by the ability of CBCS to attract and retain the best teachers and staff while having one of the lowest teacher salaries in the state. We want to be able to sustain this in the long term, which is why it is so important to understand how our school district compares to others in our state in terms of funding and teacher salaries.”

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