The Jefferson County Public School District Board of Education has agreed to a higher starting salary structure for teachers with master’s degrees, initial salary placements and hard-to-fill positions.
According to Amy Weber, chief human resource officer for the district, Jeffco is well below most of the surrounding districts. Weber argued the new structure was needed because it costs the district much more to use contract labor than it would to simply increase the minimum starting salaries.
Currently, there are 350 positions in the district that Weber said meet this new criteria. The hard-to-fill classification includes such positions as audiologists, certified behavioral analysts, special education teachers, and English as a second language specialists, to name a few.
More than 185 positions are currently being recruited, and Jeffco hires more than 600 teachers on average per year, Weber said.
Additionally, positions where a teacher holds a master’s degree are several thousands of dollars lower than neighboring Littleton, Cherry Creek, Boulder and Aurora, she said.
Weber said she empathizes with current teachers in the district who may not be happy with the changes, as new hires will now earn more than many veteran teachers.
“We went through a funding crisis,” Weber said. “We have our own teachers who have salaries that were frozen. That is a significant challenge that needs to be addressed in the budget and negotiations process, but we are not here to talk about that. We need to be thoughtful in what we pay our teachers that want to come here.”
Weber said an estimate of what it would cost to make up a 2 percent pay increase over just the past three years to those teachers would approach $30 million.
Weber also said with the board’s vote in September to award salary increases based on performance, the district no longer has a salary schedule, therefore the new proposal was to give Weber’s office more clarity in how to hire new staff.
The board first heard the presentation in early March and voted at its last meeting to move forward with the plan.
The plan also includes more than $1.2 million in compensation adjustments for select administrators and teachers currently in the district. Compared to seven neighboring districts, pay discrepancies ranged from 10 percent less for high school principals to 13 percent less for elementary school principals.
The new salary schedule would start new teachers with a bachelor’s degree and up to 10 years of experience at $49,500. For those holding a master’s degree it would be just more than $54,000.
“We realize people come to Jeffco for more than just salary reasons,” Weber said. “But we do feel like we have to be competitive in the marketplace to be able to hire people who are considering other districts.”
Board President Ken Witt questioned if the new structure was consistent with the structure put in place in September. Board attorney Brad Miller assured him the move only applied to this year and all other compensation would need to be negotiated as planned.
“We do want to make clear that going forward there is a negotiation process in place,” Witt said. “We have to continue to adhere to that.”
Although the board passed the compensation package unanimously, members still had varying degrees of concern.
Witt stressed that the district only recognize those with master’s degrees where they benefit students and that they were not being paid a higher salary simply because they held an extra credential. Additionally, he was concerned that teachers get paid for certain degrees despite maybe not using those degrees. For example, a teacher who holds an administration degree, Witt prefers that a teacher only be compensated for holding that degree if they work in administration.
Witt used the content area of a teacher who is above a certain grade level as an example.
“Perhaps curriculum and instruction in the early grades is valuable,” Witt added “But I wouldn’t hold that is the type of master’s degree we should be compensating at the high school level. So going forward, I don’t want to lose that concept.”
Weber assured Witt that was not part of this compensation change.
Board member Lesley Dahlkemper said she wants the district to make things fair for teachers currently in the district.
“We have teachers that will come in a step higher,” Dalhkemper said. “Right-sizing that continues to be a critical concern in how we think through that and adjust that.”
Board members John Newkirk and Julie Williams reminded everyone that Jeffco was not alone in the economic downturn that caused salary cuts and freezes. While other districts were able to pass mill levy overrides to ride out the storm, Jeffco did not.
“The economy hurt a lot of different businesses and families out there,” Williams said. “I would like to see our teachers make more money. I just want to make sure that over the years we can afford it as a district.”