Steamboat Springs When 28-year Steamboat Springs School District employee Steve Schibline was asked whether there were any elephants in the room Wednesday, he quickly spoke up for his fellow classified staff members.
Schibline told the district’s collaborative bargaining team that he hears concerns from other support staff, like bus drivers, custodians and food service specialists, including the possibility of small pay increases coupled with new insurance premium costs.
“Support staff is kind of beside themselves because they don’t know what these numbers are going to do to their income,” Schibline said.
Steamboat Springs School District makes wage and salary comparisons with the following districts:
Telluride School District
Aspen School District
Summit School District
Eagle County Schools
Academy School District 20
Lewis-Palmer School District
Littleton Public Schools
Cheyenne Mountain School District
Roaring Fork School District
Schibline said he’s watched over the years as student enrollment has increased, while support staff levels have decreased, without significant raises to match the workload.
On Wednesday, bargaining team members agreed to award classified staff a 2 percent raise and bring a handful of positions closer to within the market average for positions at other schools.
The 2 percent increase would cost the district about $80,000, and the market adjustment for staff in 14 positions comes with a price tag of $85,000.
Schibline said a 2 percent raise for some classified employees isn’t much, and it will seem even less with a new $30 a month insurance premium cost for individuals.
As an example, a custodian hired in 2015 would currently make $14.06 an hour, or about $2,474 a month before taxes.
With a 2 percent raise, that employee would make $14.34 an hour, or about $2,524 a month before taxes, an increase in gross pay of $50 a month.
However, if the employee chose to continue on the district’s most popular insurance plan, $30 of their raise would now go toward insurance. And if the employee pays to insure a spouse or children, their raise would be more than consumed by a $60 increase for spouse plans and a $90 increase for family plans.
For employees with only their own insurance to pay for, no one would see a decrease in take home pay, regardless of how low their income is.
Administrators Thursday said they believe the district respects its support staff and has a track record of agreeing to raises and keeping classified positions competitive with comparable districts, including Aspen, Summit and Telluride.
When bargaining team members were asked to suggest options for a new compensation plan Wednesday, every suggestion included a larger percentage increase for classified staff over teachers, who were tentatively awarded a 1.5 percent raise.
“I thought there was a lot of respect in the room last night for our classified staff,” said Superintendent Brad Meeks, who pointed out that teachers said it was a priority to make sure no employee’s take home pay decreased as a result of new insurance premiums. “We want to make sure that none of our classified staff go backwards.”
Last year, in addition to awarding step increases to classified staff, which average as a 4.2 percent raise, the district brought two positions that were below the market average wage to within range.
However, wage increases for the same positions in other districts this year again put some Steamboat employees below the average.
Human resources director Katie Jacobs said wages and inexpensive insurance aren’t the only reason that classified employees choose to work for a school district instead of in another industry — there are also numerous vacation weeks and a schedule that works well for employees with children.
Schibline said Friday he's understanding of the financial predicaments school districts are in, and is hopeful the Colorado legislature will work to restore funding for all public services, including education.
"I know that Tabor and Gallagher is wreaking havoc on all government services in Colorado," he said. "It is my hope that the legislature can act swiftly, to help resolve this financial dilemma before the 'wheels fall off' our finely tuned services."
Both teachers and support staff will vote on whether they support the bargaining package and then it will be subject to board approval as part of the budget process this spring.
To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow