Aspen School District teachers are urging local board officials and state lawmakers to consider a petition urging them to increase base-level compensation to a minimum of $50,000 a year.
Teacher pay was a hot topic during the Board of Education election last fall, and it continues to be so in an area where the cost of living is high and housing opportunities are low.
At the BOE’s Jan. 20 meeting, representatives of the Aspen Education Association — which represents faculty and staff at ASD — presented the five board members with a petition asking them to “do the right thing” by setting salaries for entry-level, certified teachers at $50,000 and by raising “all salaries commensurately so that we can attract and retain the very best staff our students deserve.”
Three members of the AEA also presented the petition, which generated 175 signatures from ASD employees, to state lawmakers earlier this month in Denver.
“We talked to them about the cost of living here and being a teacher here,” said Aspen Elementary School music teacher and choir director Marnie White, who was joined by AEA members Georgina Levy and Kay Erickson.
“One of the points we made is that we are professionals, we are trained as professionals, and we should be compensated as professionals,” White said, noting the meeting took place with state Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon; Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon; Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail; and Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.
In 2017-18, the average starting pay for public school teachers in Colorado was $33,483, placing it 44th in the country, according to data from the National Education Association. The national average for entry-level pay that academic year was $39,249, according to the NEA.
Of the Aspen School District’s current staff of 128 full-time K-12 teachers, 22 of them earn an annual salary below $50,000, according to Molly Owens, the district’s human resources director.
The current average annual salary for the Aspen School District’s full-time teachers is $65,822, Owens said.
A new salary schedule for the district’s certified staff was “implemented in the 2018-19 school year and meets the goals of creating a pay structure that improves teacher attraction and retention, incentivizes continued teacher education in comprehensive programs and is financially sustainable,” according to the district’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report dated June 30, 2019.
New hires with a bachelor’s degree and one year of experience are paid $43,000 at ASD, with the amount gradually rising with each additional year of experience. A new hire with a degree and 10 years of teaching experience earns a base salary of $46,500, still shy of the minimum base sought by the AEA.
The Colorado Education Association (CEA) State of Education Report, released Nov. 19, also echoed concerns expressed on the local level, following its visit to public educators in Alamosa, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Durango, Edgewater, Fort Morgan, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Lamar and Loveland.
“Time and again educators expressed the same perilous warnings: They are facing more challenges to providing the schools our students deserve with shrinking resources,” the report said. “There is an ever-increasing demand to do more with less: more testing, more unfunded mandates, more mental health challenges, larger class sizes, increasing cost of living, shrinking state funding over time and reductions in retirement benefits.”
In Colorado, districts set pay, not the state. But this year’s legislative session includes three bills that aim to tackle compensation.
The AEA began circulating its petition in early January. In roughly two weeks, the drive generated 175 signatures.
“We were pretty pleased with that many in such a short amount of time,” said Mark Munger, president of the AEA.