Roaring Fork teachers find pay raise in district budget
Roaring Fork public school teachers will get another pay raise this fall, thanks to increasing student-teacher ratios and select budget cuts.
The Roaring Fork Re-1 school board this month accepted a proposal to increase teacher salaries by $1,432 for full-time staff members starting in September — the result of eight months of work by the teachers union through the Interest Based Bargaining process.
The stated goal of the IBB is to bring the Roaring Fork School District into the top third of Colorado districts in terms of teacher pay. This salary increase is a step toward that goal, officials said.
“We still have a long way to get there,” said Rhonda Tatham, president of the Roaring Fork Education Association teachers union and a teacher at Carbondale Middle School.
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The district gave an average 5.2 percent raise in February that was applied retroactively to the beginning of the current school year.
“As we said in February, that salary increase was the first small step down a long road of becoming more competitive,” Tatham said. “We are now exploring all options to increase salaries, so that we are more competitive and can keep and attract great teachers.”
The raise was possible in part by not refilling a few certified staff roles, and allowing the average student-to-teacher ratio for Roaring Fork public schools to increase. The next school year will see an average ratio of 15.2 students per teacher, up from a ratio of 14.8 students per teacher this year.
The ratio is calculated with special education teachers, specialists and others besides classroom teachers, and only 7.8 teaching roles (including part time staff) will be allowed to go unfilled across the district.
The small ratio increase will have only a slight impact in class sizes, and frees up more than $500,000 for the salary increase, according to the IBB.
The district also cut curriculum, instruction and other budget areas to pay for the salary increase.
The Roaring Fork Valley has some unique challenges in paying teachers. The teacher salary lags behind the state average by more than $1,000, but the cost of living far exceeds the state average, according to the teachers union.
It’s considered a rural district due to size, but since it’s a desirable place to live, and has high health care costs common on the Western Slope, the cost of living is far higher than other rural districts.
In addition to the health care costs and student ratios, another factor behind RFSD’s lower average salary is its relatively low share of property taxes.
School districts are allowed to make up 25 percent of their budget through property taxes, and currently only 15 percent of RFSD’s budget comes from that source.
The teachers union also wants the district to consider seeking a mill levy override in the 2020 election.
“If we don’t look at all of those options, what’s going to happen is there will be a lot more teacher turnover, and we’ll have a teacher shortage,” Tatham said.
Teacher attrition, which made the current pay raise possible, is also a problem for the district.
The goal is to avoid having teachers come to the district for a year or two and realize they can’t afford to start a family, and leave to make a higher wage with a lower cost of living in another district.
“If you can make more money and the cost of living is cheaper, you’re going to go to those places,” Tatham said.
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“Breathe it in and live like whatever you’re doing will never happen again, because it won’t…” — RFHS co-valedictorian Rex Hamilton