By Nancy Mitchell, STATE BILL COLORADO
GOLDEN – For teachers in Colorado’s largest school district, Thursday’s $110 million cut in state education funding means their 1 percent raise in April will be a stipend and not a permanent increase.
Jefferson County teachers, like those in several districts across Colorado, agreed to a contract for 2009-10 that included a contingency – if the state doesn’t cut that $110 million, teachers get more.
In Denver Public Schools, it means teachers will not get an additional 1.65 percent increase. In Adams Five-Star schools, teachers will receive a .82 percent stipend in April, instead of a .82 percent salary-building raise.
And in Cherry Creek schools, teachers will not get an additional .5 percent increase.
“I think, truthfully, they have expected it, looking at what’s been happening with the state budget crisis,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Jefferson County Education Association, who will begin formally notifying her teachers today.
Few seemed surprised or particularly upset about the funding cut, equal to 1.9 percent, that was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Bill Ritter. That’s partly because it was expected, as increasingly dire state revenue forecasts have issued from the Capitol since state lawmakers in May ordered districts hold $110 million in reserves.
It’s also because districts are now preoccupied with preparing for bigger cuts ahead, including a projected 6 percent cut for 2010-11.
“This will trigger in a number of districts some kind of direct salary implication for teachers,” Colorado Education Association spokeswoman Deborah Fallin said of the 1.9 percent reduction.
“But … this is probably minor compared to what the impact is going to be in the 2010-11 budget.”
Bracing for what’s ahead
For school districts, which typically spend 80 percent or more of their budgets on staff, cuts in state funding often translate into fewer teachers hired and larger class sizes.
At least two districts, one large and one smaller, are putting controversial ideas on the table in an attempt to keep that from happening.
In Pueblo County, school board members this month re-opened talks about switching to a four-day school week. Board members voted 3-2 against the idea last year but, facing more cuts, they’re taking another look.
The plan could save as much as $1.1 million in transportation, utilities and part-time workers such as classroom aides. A Jan. 11 board meeting brought out more than 100 people, many of them holding pink fliers proclaiming “No 4-day week,” the Pueblo Chieftain reported.
A July 2006 state report found 62 districts on four-day weeks but noted “most are rural and sparsely populated.” The 9,000-student Pueblo district would be the first of substantial size to switch.
In Jefferson County, two school board members want budget talks to include consideration of a reduction in base salary for all teachers – rather than the more common salary freeze.
It’s not unusual in tough budget years for boards to save money by freezing teachers’ traditional annual raises for another year of service or for more college credits earned.
But board member Laura Boggs on Thursday said that stopping those raises, known as “steps and lanes” or “steps and levels,” doesn’t impact all teachers the same.
“Why have we not had a conversation about reducing everybody’s base salary instead of freezing steps and levels?” she asked during a board meeting.
Both Boggs and board member Jane Barnes, who brought up the issue at a budget meeting last week, said they were passing along community suggestions.
Jeffco’s difficult budget dilemma
Dallman, the teachers’ union president, said about 25 percent of Jeffco teachers do not receive “steps and levels” each year.
But while Dallman said she appreciated Boggs’ quest for equity, she described any proposal to reduce teachers’ base pay as “insulting.”
“Teachers are tired, the workload has been phenomenal,” she said. “The district has asked us to do so much and we have risen to the challenge and we have gotten results.”
The 86,000-student district outperformed state averages in all subjects and grades tested on Colorado’s 2009 annual exams. Its 2009 graduation rate was 81.3 percent, reflecting a 4.2 percentage point spike led by a nearly 9 percent jump in the number of Hispanic students graduating.
“For two board members to be suggesting that teachers’ salaries be rolled back is completely, completely unacceptable,” Dallman said.
Boggs made it clear that she wants to avoid increasing class sizes, declaring at one point, “I’m not going to put a 2nd-grader in a class of 27 kids, it’s not going to happen.”
Already, in anticipation of budget reductions including the 1.9 percent cut, Jeffco eliminated 50 elementary teaching positions as part of $11.8 million in cuts for 2009-10.
For 2010-11, budget work groups have come up with proposals that include eliminating another 114 teaching positions. And in 2011-12, when school funding is expected to continue its decline, the proposals include eliminating another 162 teaching jobs.
Altogether, the proposals call for cutting nearly 470 jobs – from teachers and administrators to custodians and bus drivers – across the district to help save $43.8 million over two years.
Holly Anderson, a community superintendent charged with reporting school-level impacts to board members, tried to answer questions about the potential for larger class sizes and for fewer electives such as art and music.
“It really touches every classroom, every school,” she finally told them.
Nancy Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com or 303-478-4573.