Aspen School District, Education Association approve agreement for new pay schedules
Total investment in pay boosts, benefits could total around $2 million
The Aspen School District Board of Education unanimously approved an agreement with the Aspen Education Association teachers union on Wednesday night that will introduce new salary schedules aimed at increasing salaries for many staff and leveling the scales of pay equity.
“I think it just changes a lot of lives, and we’ve heard from a lot of teachers who really appreciate it,” said Aspen Education Association President Stephanie Nixon.
Aspen Education Association membership ratified the agreement at 6 p.m. Tuesday with 105 yes votes and three no votes, Nixon told the board. The association has about 165 members, Nixon said. The ratified agreement is effective July 1.
The agreement includes four new salary schedules with the following starting pay: one for certified staff like teachers at $50,000, one for support services providers at $54,000, one for salaried education support professionals at $40,000 (with most starting salaries for positions on that scale starting at $55,000 or $57,000) and one for hourly education support professionals at $21 per hour. Substitute pay will also increase.
“In total, we’re probably spending around $2 million, including benefits” to accommodate for the pay increases in the new salary schedules, Chief Financial Officer Linda Warhoe said.
The salary schedules for certified staff and support services providers are based on the years of service as well as education attained. The salary schedules for education support professionals are based only on years of service, but those staff are eligible for annual stipends based on the highest degree earned.
The agreement also includes a detailed supplemental pay schedule of stipends and additional compensation staff can earn for certifications and extra service to the district, like mentoring another teacher or coaching a school team.
Much of that supplemental pay used to be baked into a district employee’s base pay but will now be itemized. That change will not affect how the earned income factors into retirement savings, according to Nixon and district human resources director Amy Littlejohn.
District officials emphasized that the goal was equitable pay raises to level the scales (rather than equal, across-the-board ones).
The district worked with a human resources firm to conduct a salary study that found that about half of district staff were making more than the market rate and half of them were making below it, with significant variance in that range, according to Littlejohn and Superintendent David Baugh.
Roughly seven employees in the entire district had pay on par with market rate, Littlejohn said.
“I think every single employee was on a different pay rate,” Nixon said.
The new salary schedule is universal, meaning the base pay won’t change based on favoritism or other arbitrary factors, according to Baugh.
According to Nixon, the district shifted away from a standardized pay scale in the 2017-18 school year. Baugh said he believed that was “one of the worst things that ever happened to this district.”
“Nobody knew where they were,” Baugh said. “You had a pay scale replacement, sort of, but there’s huge variation in there.”
Littlejohn described the new schedule as a “level playing field.” The focus on implementing pay equity now means that the new salary schedules won’t impact all employees in the same way, and some staff won’t see much of a pay increase at all because of how variable the pay rates were before.
Some staff are receiving a pay increase of less than $1,500; they will receive a one-time bonus equal to the difference between their raise and $1,500.
But other staffers could see pay raises in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars based on their degree and the “step” they are at on the schedule, as well as how close their base pay has been to the existing 2021-22 salary schedule the district posted online. (Steps represent “one full year of service equivalent to 10 or more months of full-time employment in a comparable role,” according to the proposed schedule.)
For instance, a teacher entering at step zero on the schedule with a bachelor’s degree would make a base pay of $50,000 according to the proposed 2022-23 salary schedule, up about 8.7% from the $46,000 they would have made according to a 2021-22 schedule. A teacher with a Ph.D. at step 10 on the salary schedule would make a base pay of $82,887 in the 2022-23 school year, up about 20.3% from $66,028 in 2021-22.
The proposed salary schedule also includes higher base pays for teachers who have a bachelor’s degree and up to 24 additional credits or a master’s degree plus up to 60 additional credits. Teachers with more than those maximum amounts of additional credits will not receive additional pay unless they get an additional degree.
That means a teacher with a master’s degree and, say, 100 additional credits, would be at the same base pay as a teacher with a master’s degree and 60 additional credits at the same step on the schedule.
That teacher with lots of extra educational credits would only move to the next column with higher pay scales if they got their Ph.D., Littlejohn said.
Also, moving forward, teachers must secure approval for additional credits earned beyond their degrees to ensure those credits are aligned with educational outcomes and what teachers are doing in the classroom, according to Baugh and Assistant Superintendent Tharyn Mulberry.
That extra-credit cap was a source of frustration for some staff like kindergarten teacher Lisa McGuire and first grade teacher Jill Pisani, who spoke during the public comment section of Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.
Both teachers said they have poured time and energy into earning well over that 60-credit cap and would like to see compensation increases that reflect that work they put in. Pisani said that by her calculation, she would be getting a 1% raise and McGuire said she believed she would be “not even at the 1% — I’m at the 0%” based on what she currently makes compared with the new schedule.
Nixon acknowledged that frustration while also noting that the aim of this work was to level the scales, not put the existing scale on a new shelf.
“We had to make it right,” Nixon said. “And you know, it is difficult because you are seeing people that are not going to get as much as other people. … It’s not that you’re not valued, it’s just that we had to make it right for so many other people.”
The new agreement was the result of “extensive negotiations over many hours and many days,” Baugh said.
“I will say it was a very collaborative process,” he added. “Each team pushed the other.”
Those teams included representation from both the district offices and the Aspen Education association.
Aspen Education Association
Stephanie Nixon (president), Marnie White (vice president), Josh Anderson, Dana Berro, Bente Doolan, Ada Friedman, Malia Kelly, Tonie Richards and SkiCountry UniServ Director Eric Hansen.
Aspen School District
David Baugh (superintendent), Tharyn Mulberry (assistant superintendent), Amy Littlejohn, (human resources director), Amy Kendziorski (Aspen Middle School principal) and Linda Warhoe (chief financial officer).
The Aspen School District could collect an extra $1.2-1.5 million in tax dollars annually as a result of the district switching to local funding in fiscal year 2023-2024.