Superintendent’s Corner column: What happens after November 2?
My grandmother used to say, “Don’t paint the baby’s room before the baby is born,” because she thought it would bring the evil eye to count our blessings before they happened. With election day just around the corner, we eagerly await the outcome of 5B, the mill levy measure to pay our teachers and staff members a living wage.
It couldn’t come at a better time, given the staffing crisis we are facing in our schools. Our staff want to know exactly what it will mean for, and when it will appear in, their paychecks if it passes, and everybody wants to know if our staff shortage will be abated, reducing disruptions to programs and services.
If 5B passes Nov. 2 — and my grandmother of blessed memory should hear me say if not when — we will celebrate the support and generosity of our community members and get to work instituting the pay increases our teachers and staff have so long awaited. However, the changes will be gradual, not immediate. Here’s why.
If 5B passes, several things must happen before the district receives funding. The election results must be certified, which could take until Thanksgiving. Our actual funding amount depends on a number of factors: actual student enrollment counted during the month of October and finalized in November; property tax valuations and mill levy certifications in December; and total program funding adjustment in December.
So we won’t know the precise funding amount until January. Then, after the first of the year, property tax bills go out and we will begin to receive the funds in March.
Meanwhile, we have set broad goals for the use of the funds. First is to restore lost progress due to state funding cuts in 2020. Second is to be competitive in the marketplace by bringing salaries of teachers and all employee groups into the top third of market comparisons. Third is to be equitable by providing employees a living wage while minimizing inconsistencies and discrepancies between employee groups. Put simply, we want every employee to receive a fair and adequate wage.
Based on projections, the additional funds would allow us to achieve those goals. However, remember that school districts actually operate a number of industries in addition to teaching, and each employee group has its own market. For teachers and other educators, we use a group of similar comparison school districts. But some of them are just now finalizing their own pay schedules, and in order to use the most recent data in a tumultuous economy, we are again gathering the latest information.
For hourly positions such as bus drivers, food service workers and custodial staff, we will use school districts as our primary comparison group, but also need to factor local markets because that’s where we compete for those positions. We commissioned a salary study of those groups in April, but the economy is so volatile that those numbers are out of date, so we commissioned a second study, which will be completed in November.
Because our school district is deeply committed to transparency and collaborative decision-making, how to determine pay schedules for employees will not simply be an administrative decision. Instead, we always use a collaborative approach called Interest Based Bargaining (IBB) with our educators. That process is inclusive and fair, but it takes time — typically, from November through March. Furthermore, unlike many school districts that approve salaries before they know their actual funding, our commitment to fiscal stewardship means that we never finalize our salaries until, well, the baby is born.
For other employee groups, department managers and I will have a series of meetings with each group starting in early November to finalize the comparison points for each separate industry. Then we will meet again this winter to look at actual salary schedules.
When — if — this all comes to pass, we will be able to make the largest salary adjustment in the school district’s history effective in the March or April paychecks. It will affect every employee except senior district leadership. And it will be retroactive, so that employees receive back pay until the beginning of the school year. That would be worthy of celebration, but will take time.
My grandmother was not an optimist, and she would probably have asked, “What if it doesn’t happen?” Well, grandma, we have been talking about what happens if it doesn’t pass for months: we’ll see continued critical staff shortages and high teacher attrition; we will have to increase class sizes and make cuts to programs and services.
We aren’t breaking out the paint and rollers yet, but if the MLO doesn’t pass, the current crisis will only worsen.
Rob Stein is superintendent of Roaring Fork District schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
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