In the wake of the defeat of 3A and 3B — the mill levy override and bond package the Jefferson County Board of Education presented to voters Nov. 8 — the board has declared teacher compensation as its top priority going into next year’s …
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In the wake of the defeat of 3A and 3B — the mill levy override and bond package the Jefferson County Board of Education presented to voters Nov. 8 — the board has declared teacher compensation as its top priority going into next year’s budget.
“The defeat of 3A has really left our teachers, leaders and support staff feeling undervalued,” board member Ali Lasell said at the Nov. 17 board meeting.
The $33 million mill levy override would have been an ongoing increase to the district’s tax revenue, with the money going towards attracting and retaining teachers and hiring more mental health staff. Voters rejected the 3A mill levy override 52 percent to 47.9 percent.
The $535 million bond proposal would have funneled money into building new schools and improving and repairing aging ones. The 3B bond measure was defeated 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent.
“Taxpayers made clear that they didn’t want to make the investments we were talking about,” board member Brad Rupert said.
At the Nov. 17 special meeting, Rupert was one of the board members that expressed concern about the competitiveness of teacher compensation in Jeffco schools.
“This isn’t about just giving out raises, this is about competing for the teachers we’ve invested in, hired and nurtured along,” Rupert said. “The most important factor in educating children successfully is to have a high-level teacher in every classroom.”
During the meeting, Amy Weber, chief human resources officer for the district, said she’s worried any pay increase the district can offer now may be too little, too late. Of the five surrounding districts, Jeffco ranked lowest in teacher compensation.
“If we recognized more years of service, then we could be more competitive,” Weber told the board, adding that when the district went through initial budget cuts, it no longer took into accounty teacher’slongevity of service. Most districts offer teachers who are seeking employment in a different district credit for how many years they’ve worked when determining salaries.
Currently, Jeffco Schools only recognizes up to five years of service.
“The challenge we get is there a lot of skilled people who want to work in Jeffco, but we’re only giving them five years of service,” Weber said, adding that this drives experienced teachers to other districts.
Many districts would recognize 10 years of service of a teacher with 15 years of experience, which could give that teacher an extra $10,000 a year, Weber said.
Another challenge Jeffco has is that in all the surrounding districts voters approved measures for more money.
Although the board agreed that teacher salaries were the top priority to increase and maintain student learning, the defeat of the bond also leaves gaps in funding for aging buildings and the shift of sixth-grade students to middle school campuses.
“We have $17 million to invest and our needs are greater than that,” board member Amanda Stevens said. “We owe it to our students now and in the future that they have more than adequate 21st century environments.”
Moving forward, the board will have tough decisions to make about the possibility of closing and consolidating schools.
“We have to figure out what to do about maintaining and protecting the investments of prior bonds, as well as our vision and how to provide the best education for our students,” Lasell said. “I am not in support of closures and consolidations at this point.”
In the next six weeks, the board and district staff will take a close look at where the district has made cuts in the past, as well as reallocations of funds, new departments and new programs.
Chief Operating Officer Steve Bell said the way to compensate is to make the most efficient use of facilities districtwide.
“If we save dollars, they are ongoing savings and applicable elsewhere,” he said.
In the coming months, community engagement will be key for the board and something they’ve declared to focus on.
“Every dollar that we cut needs to either create or protect something that we value more,” Stevens said.
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