RE1J school district awards teachers with big raises

Board approves Gunnison County Education Association agreement

By Kendra Walker

Teachers and staff with the Gunnison Watershed School District are getting an unusually hefty salary raise this year. On Monday, May 23, the Gunnison Watershed School District board unanimously agreed to ratify the 2023/2024 agreement with the Gunnison County Education Association. The agreement prioritizes salary raises and was made possible largely by the School Finance Act that was passed by the state legislature earlier this month. The district’s preliminary draft budget as presented on Monday includes a 2% step increase as well as a 9%-15% increase to all base salaries. 

In a staff memo, the district’s business manager Tia Mills noted, “The past two years have been very difficult and all staff have played integral roles in making all students feel welcome, valued and safe. The district is committed to doing all it can to make positive movement on salary levels and support all district staff.”

Earlier this month, the district finalized negotiations with the Gunnison County Education Association, and the salary raises include the following: a 13% raise to the base for teachers/staff with bachelor’s degrees; a 12% raise to the base for teachers/staff with master’s degrees; a 15% raise to the base for classified employees (e.g. bus drivers, custodians, IT specialists); and a 9% raise to the base for administrative staff. 

Based on the salary raises, for example, an entry level teacher salary with a bachelor’s degree is $47,475, up from $42,000. 

The district has also increased the daily substitute teacher rate from $125 a day to $130 a day.

Mills explained, “This is the first time we’ve been purposeful in giving different percentages across the different classes of pay scales. The goal is to raise the lowest paid employees up more,” she said. “It really shows the commitment of the district when we do get money from the state to get it pushed out to our employees.”

The School Finance Act as passed, funds K-12 education at more than $9 billion, an increase of $665 million over the 2022/2023 year. This increase was due to savings in the State Education Fund and new revenue.

Regarding negotiations, district superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols told the board she was very pleased with the outcome. “I really respect and appreciate the work that we do together. It’s very collaborative. We are all on the same team and it really shows.”

Board treasurer Dave Taylor, who also participated in the negotiations, agreed. “We were fortunate with our income this year. The single highest element of our income statement is payroll. Employees are our number one personnel asset to the extent that we have the money, and we were fortunate with our income this year,” he said. “It’s important the district shares that as generously as we can and as responsibly as we can. I believe this to be a generous compensation increase done in a responsible manner.”

Nichols concluded, “This is a testament to this district’s commitment to our revenue going as much as possible to our people. We know it’s our people that make the difference in kids’ lives and we do all that we can to pass that through to our people.”

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