Roaring Fork teachers grateful for raise but know it’s not enough
Teachers in the Roaring Fork Valley’s largest school district are grateful for a pay raise that they say is long overdue, but worry the salary won’t keep up with other rising costs.
The Roaring Fork School District Board of Education, upon the recommendation of the Interest Based Bargaining group of teacher union representatives and administrators, last Wednesday approved a mid-year salary increase averaging 7.1 percent over the 2017-18 school year.
Due to the cost of living, years of inadequate pay increases due to state funding and consistently rising insurance costs, that pay increase is far below where it needs to be, according to local teacher union representatives.
“I would argue it’s not a big raise,” Glenwood Springs High School science teacher and IBB member Rob Norville said in an interview.
The current salary raise will not even keep pace with benefits increases, according to the union. The health insurance deductions, which the IBB and the school district do not control, has risen annually by about 5 percent over the past few years, Norville said.
A 2018 report from the Colorado Legislative Council on cost of living for each district in Colorado found the Roaring Fork School District one of the most expensive school districts to live on the average teacher salary. The downvalley district, which includes schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, ranks behind only Aspen and Summit.
“We’re still well below what that report recommends,” Norville said.
For a family of three, the cost of living in the Roaring Fork District equates to an income of $60,000.
Even with the pay raise, Roaring Fork teachers on average wouldn’t meet that benchmark. The new pay schedule increases the average Roaring Fork salary to about $53,000.
RFSD negotiates pay increases after the school year begins and administrators know exactly how much money they can expect from the state.
“We don’t feel that we’re done yet, it’s just that this is what we’ve been able to do with the identified dollars through the state funding formula,” Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein said in an interview last week.
‘BUYing THEIR OWN SUPPLIES’
Rhonda Tatham, a Carbondale Middle School teacher and president of the teacher’s union, known as the Roaring Fork Community Education Association, estimates that more than half the teachers in the district have to hold down second and third jobs to make ends meet.
In April 2018, teachers rallied across the state and in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale to advocate higher salaries. The state budgets have started to move in the right direction, according to Tatham, but it still has a long way to go.
“I think politicians are starting to realize that they have to do something,” Tatham said.
“Until the state fixes it, teachers are still going to be buying their own supplies for their classroom,” Tatham said.
Even if Colorado does increase funding for teacher pay, that would most likely be applied across the board, and won’t address the gap between salaries here compared to the Front Range.
The cost of living report shows the average wage in Denver and most Front Range districts provide adequate teacher pay for a family of three based on the cost of living there. Many mountain districts do not fare as well, in part due to higher transportation, health insurance and housing costs.
Over time, that disparity of pay only increases.
“The gap just grows the further into your career you get,” Norville said. “A teacher who has worked in the Roaring Fork School District for 15 or 20 years would be making $30,000 a year more if they worked in the Denver district.”
The best solution would be for the state to increase funding for teachers, Tatham said, and that could require a shift in the narrative.
Colorado voters statewide rejected a ballot measure in November that would have increased education funding per pupil through additional taxes on the higher income brackets.
Absent another ballot measure, Tatham said pushing state senators and representatives to fund education is the most important thing to increase teacher pay.
“Teachers work extremely hard to make sure that kids are getting everything possible that they need to be successful in life,” Tatham said.