Stein column: Ability to retain talent at crisis point in RFSD
Paying teachers and all staff a living wage is a top priority for the Roaring Fork Schools. The teachers, bus drivers, school leaders, food service workers, custodial teams and countless other staff who work in our schools are the district’s greatest asset. Without our highly qualified and caring teachers and staff, our students can’t succeed — and if students don’t succeed, our community’s collective future is in trouble.
Not paying our staff a living wage has dire consequences for our students, schools, parents and the entire community. We are currently losing staff who can no longer afford to live in the valley and work in our schools, and we aren’t always able to recruit replacements.
Consider this email I received from a teacher last week:
“I am a teacher in the Roaring Fork Schools and a single mother of three. I struggle to put food on the table every month, and I have to work an evening job to make ends meet. It is so hard for me to understand why someone with a Master’s degree in her teaching area and over 20 years of experience has to go to work every day stressed out about making ends meet.”
This teacher’s story is increasingly commonplace. Too often, our teachers end up moving somewhere else where their experience and talents get them further. We are losing great teachers on a regular basis while struggling to attract new talent. That’s why this situation is becoming increasingly urgent. It’s becoming a crisis.
We are focused on addressing this crisis. We know that we need to improve our salaries so that our teachers aren’t moving to districts that can either pay more due to local funding advantages or can offer lower costs of living. Teaching is a market that operates on a statewide and national level, so we must raise salaries to compete for top talent.
For non-teaching staff, we need to ensure that our district is able to compete with other businesses in the community. Last fall, for instance, we were struggling to staff our food services program and had to suspend breakfast programs as a result. This was a clear example of how staffing challenges directly impact our students. When we are unable to offer a competitive salary, we are forced to make decisions about critical services and programs — about whether we can provide all students access to a nutritious, hot meal or whether we can find a substitute when teachers are absent.
Over the past few years, we’ve focused on what we can do with our current funding to become more competitive. Last year, we made hard decisions to cut certain areas of the budget and to increase student-to-teacher ratios, which resulted in $741,291 to support a 2.7% increase for our teachers. These efforts still left us far short of our goal of paying a competitive salary.
Through a collaborative bargaining process, we combed through every line in our budget and, after some very small adjustments, determined that we are already using our current funding wisely and where it is most needed.
We simply cannot reach our salary goals without additional funding. That’s why we are exploring the feasibility of asking our voters this November to support our students and our schools with additional funding dedicated to increasing teacher and staff compensation.
After doing what we can with our existing funding, we find ourselves exploring a mill levy override. In the coming months and over the summer, we will be meeting with the community to discuss our ideas for being able to pay our teachers and staff a living wage. We all know that our teachers and staff are directly responsible for the success of our students and schools, and we need to find new ways to retain and attract great talent.
Rob Stein is superintendent for Roaring Fork Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com
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