PI Editorial: Yes on 5B for better teacher/staff pay, but keep focused on state level school finance changes | PostIndependent.com

PI Editorial: Yes on 5B for better teacher/staff pay, but keep focused on state level school finance changes

Post Independent Editorial Board

The statistics speak for themselves when it comes to the reasons the Roaring Fork School District is asking its voters, once again, to dig into property taxpayers’ pockets to address a growing problem — teacher and staff pay, hiring and retention.

The district, serving Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, is the third-most expensive district for cost-of-living among Colorado’s 178 school districts — behind only Aspen and Summit County, according to a 2019 School District Cost of Living Analysis presented to the Colorado Legislative Council.

Yet, the district ranks 37th for average teacher pay among those 178 districts — including ranking behind other districts of comparable size and demographics, and in a state that ranks 49th in the U.S.

A bigger-picture concern is that the district ranks 60th in state per-pupil funding — that, in a state that also ranks in the bottom third of the 50 U.S. states for per-pupil funding.

Which leads to a later, critical point in our decision to endorse Ballot Issue 5B. More on that, but first, a few notes in support of passing 5B:

  • Entry level pay for teachers in the district is around $41,000, with a median salary of $54,000, according to the district’s reporting to the Colorado Department of Education, which on its own isn’t enough to afford to buy or even rent a house in today’s market.
  • According to surveys of district teachers, three out of every four teachers work a second job to help make ends meet.
  • A majority of top candidates for teaching positions end up turning down the offer, citing noncompetitive pay compared to what they can get elsewhere for the same job.
  • More than a third of new teachers hired leave the district within three years (turnover from 2019-21 was 14.1% for teachers and 19% for other support staff), often citing pay and cost of living as a reason.

At the same time, the Roaring Fork Schools and our beautiful valley have their attributes, and teachers want to be here.

We agree 5B is the best chance to do something now to address the problem of underpaid teachers and staff turnover.

Question 5B proposes a mill levy override — maxing out the district’s override capacity under state law — to raise an additional $6.8 million per year and bring district salaries up to the top third of comparable markets.

It’s not inexpensive.

The cost to property owners, according to the Yes on 5B Committee, would be $17.50 per month ($210 yearly) for a home with an assessed valuation of $500,000. On average, based on home values across the district, that cost would be $14.21 per month.

Commercial property owners pay a substantial portion of the bill, at $14.67 per month for every $100,000 of “actual value,” according to the committee’s website.

Still, we think it’s an important investment to make in our schools, teachers and critical support staff.

Of that $6.8 million, 75% would go to a salary increase for all but senior district leadership, 12% to retention and recruitment efforts, and 13% would be shared with the only district-sponsored charter school, Carbondale Community School, and any other charters that come under the district in the future.

It’s not just about teachers, though. There’s also a perpetual shortage of important support staff upon whom teachers and schools rely — bus drivers, custodians, food service, curriculum, front office and administrative services.

The mill levy override is critical to maintain that support staff. Unlike a private business, the school district cannot adjust pricing to pass costs on to its consumers, other than through a tax increase.

And the district has done what it can to cut costs and push available dollars to teacher and staff salaries, to the tune of more than $740,000 in recent years.

But the questions remain. Where is the top line? And when does the district have enough funding from taxpayers?

The bigger challenge of making state financing of schools more equitable doesn’t go away.

Which brings us to our final point.

Don’t let the mill levy override be the end-all to the solutions. More must be done at the state level, with active involvement by our local school district leadership, to address the issue of teacher pay in Colorado.

That starts with the inequities in the state per-pupil funding system, which unfairly pits school districts against each other with pay discrepancies and places an undue burden on local taxpayers in certain high-cost districts.

Public schools in Colorado should not be in competition with each other; they should be working together on an equal footing to make sure all Colorado students receive the education they deserve.

If changes can be made at the state level to boost teacher pay across the board, we would also ask that our local school districts weigh that in considering future taxpayer relief locally.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Publisher Bryce Jacobson, Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud, and community representatives Annie Bell and Amy Connerton.

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