Douglas County Schools approves new teacher compensation system

Future funding uncertain as DCSD looks to boost teacher pay, consider mill levy override

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In what one director described as “a historic moment,” the Douglas County School board approved a long-awaited new compensation system for licensed employees in hopes of boosting teacher pay and making DCSD more competitive with neighboring districts.

That includes three new step-and-lane salary schedules that staff say will correct pay gaps, better honor educational attainment, be more transparent and more predictable for staff. There are approximately 3,500 licensed employees, including teachers.

But the plan could be seen as a gamble, too, as the district will run out of enough revenue to fund the system after the 2023-24 school year if voters do not pass another mill levy override.

For that reason, the district’s fiscal oversight committee had advised against adopting the licensed employee compensation overhaul. District staff said that was an expected position from the committee tasked with safeguarding DCSD’s financials, while board members said improving compensation now is worth the risk.

“Finance is their lane, so it makes sense that they won’t love a plan that shows we are reducing our fund balance through the years,” Director Kaylee Winegar said.

Winegar, whose background is in accounting and finance, said she would normally want guaranteed funding in place first as well. But district staff and board directors noted DCSD has “a longer runway” to secure adequate funding than usual.

Another committee has been set up to explore the district’s options to pursue a mill levy override and bond.

“I think it still gives us time to make changes and decisions necessary, and I think Amanda and Kate’s teams have spent so much time figuring out what’s best for our teachers,” Winegar said. “I feel confident in this.”

The plan will also give the community more incentive to pass a mill levy override, Winegar said, because “they are seeing where that money is going.”

Kotaska said during the March 8 board meeting that the district’s unassigned fund balance, or dollars that are not set aside for anything specific, is close to $60 million. That’s triple the balance at its worst time, she said, and provides some cushion to the district.

It will be in place by July 1 and cost an estimated $24.8 million to implement in the 2022-23 school year.

The district has spent years course-correcting from a previous market-based pay system largely seen as unsuccessful. Chief human resources officer Amanda Thompson has spent years drafting new salary schedules and adjusting. She and chief financial officer Kate Kotaska recommended DCSD have the new system in place in time for recruitment season this year, one reason why the board considered the issue ahead of its annual budget process.

Thompson said district staff are still working on a new system for classified employees, such as nutrition services staff or administrators.

Kotaska said the new salary schedules are a first step, and not the final fix needed to improve DCSD’s compensation system. Kotaska said although there is some risk with approving the new compensation plan, doing nothing would create more instability to the system.

“I think it will rock the culture of our community,” she said.

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