Enrollment shift tied to new school to displace two dozen Roaring Fork teachers
February 16, 2017
About two dozen Roaring Fork School District teachers will be given notice that they won't have guaranteed teaching positions next year due to enrollment decreases at their schools triggered mostly by the planned opening of the new Riverview School, district officials announced Thursday.
Teachers receiving nonrenewal notices will be given priority for interviews to be hired for positions among the estimated 30 teachers needed for the new pre-kindergarten-eighth grade school south of Glenwood Springs. The same goes for any other district positions that open up, according to a district news release explaining the situation.
"We have a terrible dilemma here," said Rob Stein, superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools. "We're excited to be opening a new school, but the downside is that it results in the displacement of some of our valuable staff members."
A state law, SB-191, that went into effect six years ago prohibits districts from simply reassigning displaced teachers to a new school without mutual consent of both the teacher and the school to which they might transfer, Stein explained.
However, district policy that was put into place in 2014 allows those teachers to be placed in a priority hiring pool and interviewed for all positions for which they are qualified, he said.
Teachers who are in their first three years of service are considered probationary under the law and can be given notice of nonrenewal without cause. Teachers who have at least three years with the district are protected for at least a year but still have no guarantees where they might end up.
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Nonprobationary teachers who do not find other positions in the district are placed in a temporary assignment for one school year and continue to receive the same salary and benefits, the district's release explained.
"We know that these teachers are experiencing a lot of hardship and anxiety during this transition," Stein said, adding the district plans to inform teachers by the end of February to allow ample time and support in seeking other positions.
Districtwide, enrollment is not expected to decline. The situation resulting in the elimination of what's expected to be 32 teaching positions at existing schools for the 2017-18 school year is only partly due to enrollment shifts to the new school, though.
Two Glenwood Springs schools and one Carbondale school are facing decreased enrollment based on results of an early enrollment preference survey of parents that was completed in January, but for different reasons.
The district was anticipating big drops in enrollment at Sopris Elementary and Glenwood Springs Middle schools due to the opening of the new school. That was by design.
The early enrollment process was meant to get a better sense of how many students would be in the Riverview attendance area and how many wanted to remain in their existing schools even though they might live in the new school area. The survey also allowed families living outside the Riverview attendance area to choose the new school.
Sopris Elementary, serving the south end of Glenwood Springs, is expected to drop from 589 students this year to 381 next year as a result. Glenwood Middle School, currently the only district school serving sixth-eighth grades, should see a drop from 543 to 430 students. Riverview is expected to open with about 330 students, according to the pre-enrollment preferences.
The shift in enrollment effectively "right-sizes" Sopris and Glenwood Middle, addressing overcrowding that was the reason for including the new, $34 million Riverview School in the district's 2015 bond issue.
What district officials weren't expecting in the early estimates for next school year was an estimated 26-student drop in enrollment at Carbondale's Crystal River Elementary School. That's not due to the new school opening, but because of a demographic phenomenon, Stein said.
Carbondale in particular experienced a decreased birth rate following the 2008 recession. That, coupled with a recent increase in vacancies at the Ross Montessori charter school after it built a new, larger building, also is having an affect, Stein said.
Crystal River, which historically averaged enrollment of about 90 kindergarten students, enrolled 63 student in kindergarten for this year and is expecting about that same number for next school year.
Stein noted that no parents of current Crystal River students chose to request a move to the new Riverview School. But the enrollment drop at CRES will result in the loss of about a half dozen teaching positions.
"We, and our community, value every single member on the CRES team, which makes this enrollment dip incredibly difficult," CRES Principal Matthew Koenigsknecht said in the district's news release. "Obviously, our hope is that this is temporary and that enrollment bounces back because of CRES' increasingly positive performance and reputation."
The release also noted that many teachers have voluntarily given early notice of resignations or retirement, and some had already planned to apply for other positions in the district. As a result, rather than 32 teachers being displaced, the number was reduced to 24.
In January, Stein and Rhonda Tatham, president of the Roaring Fork Community Education Association, sent a joint letter to all staff encouraging early notification for anyone planning not to return next year for whatever reason. The district typically sees approximately 60 retirements and resignations every year, "so there is still hope that most of the teachers whose positions were eliminated will find other positions in the district next year," the release concluded.