Members of the school board for Archuleta School District 50 Joint proved they are willing to go that extra step to support their teachers.
Actually, they are willing to go an extra step and a half.
At the October board meeting the decision was made to not only award eligible teachers with a step increase to their salaries, something Superintendent Mark DeVoti didn’t think possible at the beginning of the school year, but also to add a half step increase to the base salary of all teachers.
“We’ve always said,” DeVoti reported to the board, “that as we reduce staff numbers to coincide with student numbers, and as we put more strain on our staff, even though we have less, we really need to take care of them as much as possible, and you have done that every year.
“In the face of adversity, where ninety-five percent of Colorado districts are three to five years behind on step increases, we’ve stayed current until this year. We’re one step behind right now, but if you approve this increase tonight we will remain current. We will be at the top of that five percent.”
One question that arose from the board was, if the increases were approved, would they be made retroactive to the beginning of the year. The answer was, “Yes, but it’s complicated.”
DeVoti explained that, in the past, when a similar situation occurred, it was a difficult logistical feat to calculate how much extra money each teacher should have received if the raise had gone into effect on the first day of school, how many pay periods remain in the school year after the increase was approved, and then how to evenly divide the difference out over all those checks.
It would require adjusting everyone’s salary for the current year, then readjusting it back down at the beginning of the next year. Instead, ASD business manager Janell Wood suggested adding one lump sum onto each teacher’s first check in December. Not only would the accounting be simpler, but staff would notice the extra cash right before the holiday season when they were likely to need it most.
“Janell and I have looked at numbers,” DeVoti said, “and if we do a step increase for eligible staff, it will cost the district approximately $90,000. If you looked at adding a half a step to the base, it would cost the district approximately $62,000 more.”
The issue concerned those personnel who do not benefit from step increases. “We have many staff members that are frozen,” DeVoti said. “They are topped out for whatever reason, so when we do a step increase, they don’t see anything.”
DeVoti later explained that if one looks at the chart for step increases, a teacher’s salary gets bumped up a little over $600 for every year of service, but after 20 years it tops out, unless a teacher moves over one column by earning 15 credits towards a master’s degree.
After a few more years, that column also tops out, and a teacher must finish their master’s before they can move over one more column and have room to move up again. Eventually, even if a teacher earns a Ph. D., there is a limit to how many step increases they can collect.
Those teachers who are bumping up against the top of the chart are not the only ones who wouldn’t see a step increase. First-year teachers are also affected. Therefore, by adding a half step, or just over $300, to the base of every salary, all staff would see a gain. Also, a bump in the base salary would be permanent, so a new hire next year would start out at that higher level.
“In meeting with the auditor and looking at things he has told us about,” DeVoti explained, “we’ve done a nosedive of cuts for the last six years or so, and he said, ‘You can start leveling out and you can start looking at things that you can begin to bring back. Look at the next four or five years and come up with some plans for some one-time expenditures.’ We’re in a position where we can afford to stay current and take care of the staff we have.
“We ask more from staff all the time,” DeVoti concluded. “We’re pilots for the Legacy Foundation; we’re saying upgrade your technology standards, we’re saying bring more of this into your classroom, and I think we need to increase their base as well. I feel really strongly about this.”
During the discussion that followed, school board member Tim Taylor referred to a recent study that showed local teachers on average are paid 10 percent less than the average teacher salary in Colorado, and argued that any effort to close that gap is a step in the right direction. In the end, the rest of the board agreed and voted unanimously to approve both parts of the raise for teachers.