Jeffco school district and employees need more time to find common ground

Groups still haggling over cost of living increases

Posted 5/21/19

At their last scheduled bargaining session on May 15, school district leaders and employees continued to negotiate an agreement for their 2019-2020 contract — and scheduled a new final session for …

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Jeffco school district and employees need more time to find common ground

Groups still haggling over cost of living increases

Posted

At their last scheduled bargaining session on May 15, school district leaders and employees continued to negotiate an agreement for their 2019-2020 contract — and scheduled a new final session for May 29.

The additional session, which will occur between the district and Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) members, will resolve the potential contract changes the group has not yet agreed upon. The list includes setting the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, added to employee salaries.

In previous meetings between the district and the JCEA, as well as the district and the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA), the district proposed a .67 percent COLA to current salaries, said JESPA president Lara Center.

This COLA would add to the raises employees receive based on the steps and levels they’ve reached on the district’s salary schedule.

According to David Bell, the district’s chief human resources officer, the average employee on the salary schedule will receive a 2.85 percent raise. Additionally, employees’ salaries will be 2.67 percent higher than their 2018-2019 salaries were, due to the passage of measure 5A.

JCEA and JESPA members voiced concerns about the potential .67 percent COLA, stating that their ideal COLA would weigh in at about 10 percent.

“Even if I get an additional level, .67’s going to be kind of like a pay cut,” said Beth Low, JCEA member and instructional coach at Arvada West High School.

Low expressed that such a raise would not cover costs from inflation and new costs for employees, such as healthcare plan increases. Having been with the district for 23 years, she added that she and many of her peers feel a higher COLA would balance out pay freezes employees took in 2010.

JCEA member Cory Bissell, a music teacher at Hackberry Hill Elementary, agreed that the district should prioritize raising salaries for longtime employees.

“It’s about the principle,” he said. “We’ve been told that we would be taken care of.”

Bissell, who has been with the district five years, works four jobs so he can pay his bills, he said. He added that he is unsure how long this will continue.

“As a young educator, I see the longtime educators and I think, `is that going to be my story, too?’” he said.

Bell reported that the average 2017-2018 teacher salary in Jeffco was $57,154, ranking the district fifth out of seven comparable districts. According to Bell, Jeffco also ranks fifth among districts for available funding.

During the session, JCEA members suggested the district allocate unspent money from the previous year toward compensation. However, district representatives stressed the importance of utilizing that money to build reserves, adding that some of that money has already been earmarked for specific purposes.

“We have a large amount of dollars sitting at schools that they have saved for various programs,” said budget director Nicole Stewart.

At the end of the May 15 session, Bell made plans to explore other options that could fund a 1.5 percent COLA, while JCEA members said they would be willing to abandon their highest ask, a 10 percent COLA, and consider a lower adjustment during the May 29 session.

Center said JESPA will likely schedule another bargaining session, as well, after holding what was scheduled to be its final session on May 20.

She added that, though JESPA members appreciate the move away from a .67 percent COLA, “our bargaining team would not find that 1.5 is adequate.”

“Where is the time to decompress and take care of ourselves when we can’t even pay our bills?” she said.

Even so, all involved said they were confident that the upcoming sessions would yield a solution.

“We have a very healthy negotiations process,” Bissell said. “It’s not one side giving and one side taking.”

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