Roaring Fork School District approves one-time bonuses ahead of mill levy override funds

Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein speaks at the Issues and Answers Forum at Morgridge Commons on Oct. 11.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

Full-time employees of the Roaring Fork School District will see up to an extra $1,000 on their December paychecks.

Voters of the district passed a mill levy override Nov. 2 for the purpose of increasing employee wages. However, the largest salary adjustment in district history likely won’t start until April, to the surprise of district personnel. To tide workers over in the meantime, the district’s board of education approved more than $700,000 in one-time bonuses.

“I was a little surprised when I learned of our timeline,” Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said in the Nov. 10 board of education meeting. “I was thinking if the mill levy passes, we’ll start to get this money and we can immediately push it into paychecks. We’re not actually going to have the available funds ready to distribute for some time.

“That’s why we’re recommending to the board that we give our employees a bonus because they’ve been hanging on by their fingernails.”

The school district is in the midst of a labor crisis, opening the school year with more than 60 openings due to wages disproportionately low to the Roaring Fork Valley’s cost of living. The passing of the mill levy override — which has not been formally ratified — will source up to $7.7 million and increase employee salaries an average of 10-12%, according to data from the Yes on 5B ballot measure campaign.

However, these funds will be sourced from property taxes, which won’t start being collected until 2022. Between that and salary research, the absolute best case scenario has salaries being adapted in March.

This does little to hold workers over in the final two months of the year, notoriously two of the most expensive on the calendar.

The bonuses will deliver $1,000 to full-time employees — not just teachers — that began working for the district before Dec. 1, 2021 and will be prorated for part-time employees, excluding substitute teachers, who were already eligible for other bonuses. Workers beginning with the district after that date will receive an extra $500 in the April paychecks. Athletic coaches will also receive a $200 bonus.

Roaring Fork School District Chief Financial Officer Nathan Markham estimated that somewhere around 750 employees will see bonuses.

The one-time bonus will help employees hang on while the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted on the mill levy funds, Glenwood Middle School Teacher and Yes on 5B co-chair Autumn Rivera said.

“It can definitely help alleviate some situations,” Rivera said. “Being able to pay rent. Teachers being able to maybe not have to take that extra shift at their second job. It’s a short-term fix and we’re very grateful that we passed the mill levy so that we can provide a long-term fix.”

Funding for the bonuses will come from two sources. Roughly $400,000 will come from an insurance rebate from the Colorado Education Benefit Trust. The remainder will come from Proposition EE, a tax increase on nicotine products passed in 2020.

These funds were unallocated in the district’s budget before being assigned to the bonuses.

“Whenever we get those one-time funds, we try to be as thoughtful as we can about how we spend them,” Markham said. “As the summer went on and our staffing shortage became more acute and pay became the situation we’re seeing, it became clear that we needed to return money to employees if we’re able to.”

The bonus for full-time workers represents around 1.8% of the district’s average teacher salary, based on 2020-21 data from the Colorado Department of Education. Salaries were frozen during the school year due to budget restraints from the pandemic.

“Educators have been working under very difficult conditions due to the health and safety concerns of teaching through a pandemic in addition to the associated staff shortages,” Rob Norville, Glenwood Springs High School teacher and president of the Roaring Fork Community Education Association, said in a statement. “Due to the salary freeze in the 2020-21 school year we are also a step behind in compensation, so we appreciate the district recognizing our sacrifice and loyalty to our students. The bonus will help relieve some of the financial stress that those working in RFSD continue to face as we await future budget infusions.”