School Finance Act a positive outcome for Gunnison RE1J

Teacher negotiations being finalized this week

By Kendra Walker

Earlier this month, the state School Finance Act was passed by the Senate Education Committee with $180 million toward the Budget Stabilization (B.S.) Factor buydown, which translates to approximately $329,000 in B.S. Factor for the Gunnison Watershed School District, according to GWSD business manager Tia Mills.

During the May 8 school board meeting, Mills noted that the School Finance Act will increase the district’s school finance funding by about 8%, which will result in a 3.8% total increase in overall revenue for the district over last year. “It’s great news for the district, it’s great news for education,” she told the board.

 “This is a monumental victory for Colorado educators, students and communities, and a critical infusion of funding for our public schools,” stated a press release from the Colorado Education Association. According to the release, the $180 million dedicated to buying down the B.S. Factor is more than five times the original estimate outlined in Governor Jared Polis’s initial budget proposal late last year. 

The School Finance Act also dedicates $30 million of additional funding for rural schools, will establish a new task force to study the modernization of the School Finance Act and implement an adequacy study tasked with determining how much funding is needed to provide all Colorado students with an exemplar education, according to the release.

Gunnison Watershed School District superintendent Leslie Nichols was happy with this funding progress for Colorado schools. “It is exciting that we reached a buydown of this level and additional funding for rural schools. It makes a difference here.”

However, Nichols noted that there is still a long way to go for funding education in the state. “We’re really thrilled to make some progress this year but it’s also important to highlight that even with these investments, Colorado’s school funding will still be far below the national average. There is still a tremendous problem.”

Nichols noted that the School Finance Act is the only mechanism that allows the district to improve teacher salaries. “We made amazing progress last year in our salary schedule for all of our staff based on this improvement in school funding,” she said. “The cost of living in the Gunnison Valley is a tremendous pressure on all of us living here, and our staff and teachers feel that as much as anyone.”

Last week, the district concluded negotiations regarding staff and teacher salary schedules. While negotiations were not finalized at the time of publication, Nichols and Mills shared some initial figures with the school board. The district will provide a 2% step increase for every employee, increase its starting hourly rate to $17.36, and plans a 12% increase in classified salaries and a 6% increase to administrative salaries. A draft budget will be presented to the school board on May 22.

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