In the hopes of gaining a slight advantage this hiring season, the Douglas County School District board approved salary increases for staff earlier than in the past, bumping starting teacher pay from …
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In the hopes of gaining a slight advantage this hiring season, the Douglas County School District board approved salary increases for staff earlier than in the past, bumping starting pay from $43,680 to $45,209.
Currently, Douglas County School District has one of the lowest starting pays in the Denver metro area and Superintendent Erin Kane said the district has struggled to attract and retain staff in recent years.
During the Feb. 28 meeting, the Board of Education unanimously approved a proposed 3.5% base increase for all licensed staff, such as teachers, as well as a 2-2.5% step increase, a 6% increase for classified staff and a 5% increase for administration for the 2023-24 school year.
The increases will cost the district $22.5 million next year, which is likely be covered by the inflationary increase in funding from Colorado’s School Finance Act, Kane said.
The state legislature has not yet approved next year’s school funding.
Kane acknowledged the district approving raises before knowing how much funding the state will provide is a calculated risk, but one she believes is worth it to provide certainty for staff.
“We know there is some risk, but we feel really confident that the School Finance Act will increase, certainly sufficient to cover the increases we’re proposing,” she said. “By proposing these increases now, we’re making a huge difference in terms of retention because we’re providing assurance and stability for our employees, so they will know what next year looks like.”
The compensation increases being approved so early in the year may also help give the district an edge when recruiting new teachers, Kane said, since other districts have not finalized salary schedules yet.
However, all school districts are expecting inflationary increases in state funding, which means Douglas County will probably not be the only district to raise pay.
“Every school district will receive inflationary funding from the state and every school district will do what we’re doing,” Kane said. “We’re just going to do it faster. It’s all we’ve got …It will not alleviate the need for (a mill levy override). It will not close the gap with other school districts, but it will be a great message to our teachers and to our staff.”
In the Denver metro area, Cherry Creek has already increased teacher pay for next year to $57,000 to start. Westiminster approved paying teachers a starting salary of $61,000.
Kane said the disparity comes from the differences in local mill levy overrides. Douglas County’s mill levy amounts to around $1,150 per student, while surrounding districts, including Denver, Littleton and Cherry Creek, get more than twice as much per student from their mill levies.
“It is not because our district chooses not to pay our teachers competitively,” Kane said. “It is purely a funding challenge.”
Board member Elizabeth Hanson described the decision to give raises while still planning to ask voters for a mill levy override in November like “walking on a sword.”
“We need our teachers to hear that we’re doing everything we can to take care of them and we need our community to hear that we need funding,” Hanson said. “This is a band-aid.”
In addition to salary increases, the district is also planning to offer employees free lunch next year, discounted childcare and improving staff workspaces, on top of short-term retention strategies approved in January.
Kane said the plan focused on ways to keep existing staff.
“We absolutely need to recruit, but our priority is retaining who we have, so instead of piling all of our resources into making our starting pay $50,000 … we chose to put our resources into the people that we have,” she said.
Multiple teachers spoke at the meeting in favor of the plan and thanked the board for their efforts in supporting staff.
Lucy Squire, teacher and president of the Douglas County Federation, a local teacher’s union, said the plan shows the district values its staff and is working to be more competitive.
“It’s starting to feel like we’re being paid what we’re worth,” “Thank you again for working with us and for hearing our ideas. We’re moving in the right direction and I’m full of optimism and gratitude.”
Another teacher, Ann Fisher, said her school’s culture, values and sense of belonging keep her working in the district and she doesn’t want to leave, but financial hurdles make it difficult to stay.
“While thinking of starting a family with my partner in the next year or two, I’m able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that our district is prioritizing our teachers, staff and communities with compensation increases,” Fisher said. “I’m hopeful that I will not have to make the incredibly hard decision between starting a family and staying at a school that I consider a second home.”
The entire board supported the salary increases and praised Kane and staff for their work on the proposal.
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