Teachers union wants $50K starting pay, Eagle County Schools says it cannot afford that

Eagle County starting pay is currently $42,000; Aspen schools starting pay is $43,000

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Seventeen members of the local teachers union showed up at Wednesday's Eagle County school board meeting to ask for a $50,000 salary for new teachers. School district officials say that would mean a 20% salary increase across the board, and they cannot afford that.
Randy Wyrick/Vail Daily

GYPSUM — The local teachers union is asking Eagle County Schools to boost starting salaries to $50,000 a year, which would be among Colorado’s highest.

School district officials say they cannot afford that.

In the district’s 2019-20 budget, the school board increased starting pay to $42,000 for new teachers straight out of college with a bachelor’s degree. That starting salary does not include insurance, retirement funds or other benefits, pushing the total package to $58,800, according to school district data.

“We appreciate what the school board has done and the commitment they’ve made,” said Karen Kolibaba, president of the Eagle County Education Association.

However, it’s still not enough, Kolibaba said. Some teachers’ own children are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. Other teachers are eligible for government assistance, Kolibaba said.

“We don’t have a teacher shortage — we have a shortage of master’s degree earners who are willing to work an 80-hour work week for $40K a year,” Kolibaba said, quoting a social media meme.

Kolibaba, a fourth-grade teacher at Gypsum Elementary, said teachers are committed to working with the district, but they want a “fair” base salary of $50,000.

“We are fighting for a living wage. Many are working other jobs to survive,” Kolibaba said. “We are asking for the school board’s support to help create a fair and competitive $50,000 base salary.”

“Eagle County Schools appreciates and respects our teachers for speaking out and making the case for higher base pay,” the school district said. “Each year, we work side by side with ECEA to arrive at the most robust compensation package we can afford for our staff. Retaining and recruiting the best possible educators remains our priority.”

Ripple effect

For the 2019-20 budget, the school district returned to a standard salary schedule. It starts with a base salary and then adjusts salaries for additional education and years of experience on the job, explained Dan Dougherty, the school district’s chief communications officer.

“Elevating the base pay would ripple across all steps and lanes, potentially resulting in a 20% increase in overall salaries and benefits. At present, the school district cannot afford that,” Dougherty said.

Education is a labor-intensive industry. At 76% of the general fund — the checkbook by which the school district conducts its day-to-day business, salaries are by far the school district’s largest annual expenditure­: $66,434,339 in 2019-20 for salaries and benefits.

Starting salaries in similar districts

Around similar school districts, starting salaries round out like this:

  • Boulder Valley: $47,587
  • Denver Public Schools: $45,800
  • Mapleton: $45,000
  • Telluride Schools: $43,500
  • Summit School District: $43,350
  • Aspen Schools: $43,000
  • Jeffco Schools: $42,014
  • Eagle County Schools: $42,000
  • Cherry Creek: $41,845
  • Littleton Public Schools: $41,168
  • Roaring Fork: $39,932
  • Steamboat Springs: $38,435

Under the contract with the school district, Eagle County teachers are paid for 182 workdays. At $42,000 for a starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree, that’s $230.77 per day.

“Each year, school district administration negotiates in good faith with the Eagle County Education Association on what adjustments are possible given the revenue projections of the year. Once an agreement is met, salary schedules are finalized for the year,” the school district said.

Local salaries close to state average

Eagle County Schools pays its teachers an average of $52,560. That’s all teachers, not just starting teachers. The average Colorado teacher earns $54,950 annually, according to Colorado Department of Education data.

The state average ranges from $78,265 in Boulder to $37,000 in Liberty, in rural northeast Colorado.

Westminster schools boast the highest starting pay among Colorado’s 178 school districts: $50,497 for a starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree, up to $100,000 with 15 years experience and a doctorate. Westminster is scheduled to boost that in 2020-21 to $52,820 for starting teachers with a bachelor’s degree, and up to $106,702 at the top of the pay scale, according to data from the Colorado Education Association, the statewide teachers union.

A Boulder Valley teacher with a Ph.D. can earn $119,746, according to that school district’s data.

The Woodlin school district on the Eastern Plains has the state’s lowest starting salary, at $26,000, the CEA said.

‘Underfunded and undervalued’

Seventeen teachers showed up to Wednesday’s Eagle County school board meeting to ask for more money. Some new hires show up and leave quickly or don’t show up at all because they cannot afford to live here, some of the teachers who spoke to the board said.

Several said they work second jobs.

“Education is underfunded and undervalued, not only in our state but in our country,” Kelly Ludwig said.

Ludwig said she lives in Dotsero and commutes to Edwards every day to teach her fifth-grade class at June Creek Elementary School. She said she spends Sundays in her classroom planning for her upcoming week.

Karen Conley, another fourth-grade teacher at Gypsum Elementary, said she and her husband moved from Massachusetts for Eagle County teaching jobs. Conley said the high cost of living forced her husband back to Massachusetts for a teaching job in a less expensive area.

“We know how important it is,” school board member Tessa Kirchner said. “We appreciate you being here and telling us those compelling stories, and for the amazing work you do.”