DougCo races to approve teacher benefit increases before hiring season

Suzie Glassman

By Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) In a typical year, the Douglas County school district would wait until the state legislature finalizes how much money districts will receive in per-pupil spending before announcing teacher and staff compensation increases for the coming year. But this isn’t a typical year.

Teachers know they can leave the district and earn, in some cases, $10,000 more per year, and with the failure of the mill levy override last year, the district can do little to close that gap.

Teachers, school administrators, Superintendent Erin Kane, and Chief Human Resources Officer Amanda Thompson asked the board of education to approve the district’s proposed short and long-term retention strategies before next year’s budget is complete.

Approving the district’s proposal requires an ongoing commitment of $22.5 million, which Kane admitted is risky considering no one knows how much of that will be covered by the state.

The law requires school funding to increase by at least the rate of inflation, which is currently around 8 percent. For that reason, Kane said she’s fairly confident that where the budget lands in May is close to where the proposal stands.

But any increase in staff compensation won’t help close the gap between DougCo’s starting salaries and nearby districts. The hope is that announcing precisely what teachers and staff can expect to make next year will help the district hold on to them.

“Every school district will do what we’re doing,” said Kane. “We’re just going to do it faster. That’s all we’ve got.”

Teachers and administrators comment on proposed strategies

Several teachers and school leaders spoke to the district’s board of education this week in favor of approving the proposed retention strategies and pay increases.

Lucy Squire, a long-time district teacher in the district, said, “The retention strategies we know are coming is a phenomenal step in the right direction. It’s starting to feel like we’re being paid what we’re worth while still recognizing the significant pay gaps between us and our neighboring districts.”

Ann Fisher, a third-year educator in DougCo, told DougCo’s board of education, “I can only hope that we as a district continue to strive for competitive pay and retention. I continue to hope that one day I won’t have to make the incredibly hard decision between starting a family and staying at a school I consider a second home.”

Mountain Ridge middle school principal Brian Singleton said the middle school model relies on people working together, and retaining the same teachers strengthens the program.

“If we can do things, even if they’re little, I’m all for it because it’s the little things in our profession that matter,” he said.

Proposed benefit and pay increases

As for employee pay, Kane and DougCo Chief Human Resources Officer Amanda Thompson proposed a step increase of 2 to 2.5% for licensed employees and an ongoing salary increase of 3.5% for everyone.

Non-licensed employees would receive an ongoing increase of 6%, and admin/ProTech employees would receive an increase of 5%.

Eligible employees could also get a $2,000 PERA-includable retention stipend in September. Substitutes working 75% or more would get a $750 bonus.

As for benefits, the district would guarantee that health premiums will not increase next year and that employees will have an additional personal day off. They’ve also provided extra money for tuition reimbursement.

Thompson said they hope to announce free lunches for district employees, reduced childcare rates at the district's before and after school programs, enhancements to workspaces, and increased opportunities for employee engagement.

The district continues to expand its grow-your-own program, providing opportunities for students who want to become educators and explore creative strategies like attainable housing.

The board voted unanimously to approve all of the suggested pay increases.

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I'm a reporter covering the Douglas County School District in Colorado.

Denver, CO

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