In Coloradothe average teacher salary varies from more than $71,500 in Boulder — well above the national average of $36,141 — to just over $23,000 in several rural districts. In Jefferson County Public Schools, the average teacher salary is $54,923
“Our concern is ensuring the district is competitive with surrounding districts and is able to attract and retain high quality, experienced educators,” said Paula Reed, a member of the Jefferson County Education Association board. “Right now, Jeffco is lagging behind surrounding districts and we are losing great educators, which hurts our students.”
With the failure of the $33 million mill levy override and $535 million bond package that the Jeffco Board of Education presented to voters Nov. 8, teacher compensation is once again at the forefront of issues concerning the district. The board has named it as a top priority going into next year’s budget.
But Amy Weber, the district’s chief human resources officer, said she’s worried any pay increase the district can offer now may be too little, too late. Of five surrounding districts, Jeffco ranks lowest in teacher compensation.
“My focus has been really clear on how much other districts can offer mid-career teachers to come work in their districts,” said Weber, adding that her goal is always to get a mix of new and experienced teachers.
First-year teachers in Jeffco earn a base salary of $38,000. While this is higher than Littleton Public Schools and and Adams 12 Five Star Schools, which offer $36,000, it falls below Denver Public Schools, Cherry Creek School District and Boulder School District,the other three districts Jeffco compares itself to. Starting salaries for teachers inDenver are$39,850,$38,146in Cherry Creek and $43,591 in Boulder.
For third-year teacher Kendall Bolton, the decision to start her teacher career in Jeffco was easy. She grew up in Arvada, where she took a job teaching second grade at Van Arsdale Elementary.
“I was born and raised in Arvada and really loved the education I received here,” Bolton said. “That was one of the big reasons I wanted to teach in Jeffco, to show the opportunities here.”
Bolton’s passion for Jeffco and making a difference in her community outweighed the extra dollars she could have made had she started her career in a different district.
But as her career progresses and she plans for her future, Bolten is beginning to reconsider.
“I’m trying to save money to buy a house,” Bolten said. “With the amount of money I make now, I can barely save a substantial amount of money. I want to have a family, but that won’t work if I stay in Jeffco with the way teacher compensation is going right now.”
Thinking about leaving Jeffco is a tough decision for Bolten.
“My passion is in Jeffco,” she said. “But when it comes down to my life and starting a family, I don’t know if I will be able to stay if we don’t see some changes soon.”
Bolten said competitive compensation could keep teachers like her in the district.
But the trouble, Weber said, is that Jeffco’s salary is lower than those surrounding districts across the board with teachers that have seven or eight years experience.
“That’s were we’re particularly not competitive in the marketplace,” Weber said.
A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and eight years of teaching experience that earns $44,943 in Jeffco would make $55,080 in Cherry Creek. Jeffco is last on the scale with teachers who have prior experience. One of the reasons for this is that Jeffco only honors five years of teaching experience on its salary scale. Weber said this causes mid-career teachers to leave the district.
Although the years may differ among districts, many generally honor about 10 years experience.
A specific example Weber gave was a teacher with her master’s degree and nine years teaching experience. In Jeffco, her salary is $58,000. If she moved to Littleton Public Schools, Weber said, it would be about the same. But if she moved to the Cherry Creek district, it would be $60,000 and if she moved to Boulder, it would be $75,000. In Adams 12 Five Star Schools and Denver Public Schools, Weber said her salary would improve by $5,000 and $7,000,respectively.
“When you’re making $58,000, $5,000 matters,” Weber said. “But more problematic, if she went to Cherry Creek, it would only take nine more years to max out at $80,000. It would take 22 years in Jeffco.”
Reed, of the teachers’ union, has taught at Columbine High School for more than 30 years and has seen the ups and downs of teacher compensation in Jeffco.
“A number of years ago, the teachers voted to voluntarily take pay cuts for a while and so we fell way behind in the course of that,” Reed said. “While other districts have caught up, Jeffco has not. So it’s getting a lot harder to keep young teachers because they can get more money elsewhere.”
At the end of her career, Reed said she wants to know that she is leaving her program — ACE, an at-risk intervention program — in capable hands.
“Not the teachers that are left after other districts have their pick,” she said.
Reed said she has seen younger, capable co-workers leave the district to better provide for themselves and their families.
“It’s only fair for somebody who is 26 years old to have their own apartment and not have to have roommates,” Reed said. “When you can go work for another district and can afford to live someplace by yourself, or when you are young and starting a family, it would almost be irresponsible to your family if you didn’t.”
The board of education has made it clear that having effective teachers in the classroom is the single most important focus. But Weber is clear that if teacher compensation is not competitive with surrounding districts, then effective and experienced teachers will continue to leave for other districts.
Reed believes the same.
“It may be impossible to completely catch up,” Reed said. “But to make significant strides in that direction show teachers that they’re valued and we really do want to keep them… I think teachers will be patient. But they do need to make significant strides. Teacher compensation needs to be priority spending.”