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Aspen teachers to get raises

Tim Mutrie

The Aspen School Board voted unanimously to adopt a new teacher salary scale on Monday, a move that translates into increased and more equitable salaries for teachers throughout the district.

After more than a year of negotiations between district officials and representatives from the Aspen Education Association, the new salary schedule was unanimously approved by the district’s AEA members, and then by the school board itself.

“We as a board are enthusiastic about enacting the entire plan in concept,” said board member Fred Pierce during Monday night’s meeting. The board voted to accept the first phase of the plan and voted to accept the remaining four phases of the new plan “in concept.”

“This was a salary scale that we had to fix,” said Aspen High School English teacher Andy Popinchalk, president of the AEA. “Already people are up and there’s some humor in the teachers’ room again; that’s a nice thing.

“There had been this unspoken resentment among teachers that the board was more interested in attracting teachers from elsewhere and not interested in taking care of its own,” Popinchalk added. “But I think we’ve resolved that now.”

The new salary schedule aims to align all teachers in the district on the same salary schedule over the next five years, or phases. And because the plan is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2000, teachers could see their first additional money as soon as mid-May, Popinchalk said.

The old salary schedule is riddled with inequities, according to Betsy Ann Anastas, a second-grade teacher at the Aspen Elementary School and vice president of AEA.

“Right now, everybody is out of whack on the schedule,” she said, “because over time, the administration made little adjustments to the pay schedule, basically to attract new teachers. But over time, that set things up to be unfair, so our schedule now isn’t equitable.”

Teachers in Aspen and throughout the nation are paid on salary schedules, though the starting salaries and caps vary. In Aspen, teachers move up through the salary schedule based on two factors: their years of service and the extent of their own continuing education or professional development.

“The old salary schedule didn’t work,” Popinchalk said. “Last year, 70 percent of our faculty wasn’t on the scale. … It wasn’t something that intended to disrespect old teachers, it’s just how it worked.”

The new salary schedule realigns teachers’ salaries to the new scale, which in nearly all instances, means raises for district teachers. However, because of laws that regulate school spending, the school board could only guarantee funding for the first phase of the plan.

Phase one of the plan will reimburse district teachers at 33 percent of the difference in their salary as of Jan. 1 with what it should be under the new plan. The remaining four phases of the plan will incrementally reimburse teachers until they are all being paid according to the new scale.

“In essence, we figured out where everybody should be on the scale and where they actually are,” Popinchalk said.

Popinchalk and Anastas said negotiations with the district administration and school board went well, though both admitted it was a daunting process.

“It hasn’t been an `us versus them’ mentality, and I like that,” Popinchalk said. “I give this board a lot of credit – they’re committed to the principle of equity and fairness, and the teachers in this district needed to hear that.”

There are about 130 certified teachers in the Aspen District. AEA membership among those teachers is 108.

With the victory, the AEA now hopes to renegotiate the salary schedule for noncertified district staff members, like teachers aides, janitors and secretaries. Popinchalk said negotiations for support staff could begin next week.

With the new scale, starting teachers salaries in the district went up several thousand dollars to $27,000. And with each year of service, teachers now will earn another $1,500. Similarly, for every 10 continuing education credits earned by a teacher (at a rate of no more than six a year), they move up the scale another $1,500.

Salary caps under the new plan are similar to the old plan: $55,600 for teachers with bachelor’s degrees; $67,000 for teachers with master’s degrees; and $69,000 for teachers with doctorates.


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