COLORADO SPRINGS — A Colorado Springs school district that has long been ranked near the bottom for starting teacher pay among regional districts will swing to one of the top-paying districts for first-year teachers next year, under a deal reached Tuesday night with the local teachers union.
A first-year educator in Colorado Springs School District 11 will earn a minimum $50,000 starting during the 2023-24 school year, up from $41,667 this school year. That pay slightly outpaces the $49,000 salary that nearby Harrison School District 2 will offer first-year teachers next year.
“This is the first time we’ve been this competitive, and it feels really good,” Kris Odom, the district’s interim chief operations officer and part of the district negotiating team, said at the close of Tuesday’s bargaining session.
The final agreement between District 11 leaders and Colorado Springs Education Association officials, hammered out during a three-and-a-half-hour meeting at the district’s professional development center, put to rest negotiations that one educator described as “the most contentious” in recent memory.
District leaders representing the school board and CSEA battled at the bargaining table in at least eight negotiation rounds dating to March, with tension mounting between the two sides over differences in how teachers should be compensated.
On Tuesday night, at least 75 educators — most of them members of the Colorado Springs Education Association clad in red T-shirts to demonstrate solidarity — showed up to advocate for liveable wages.
Along with dramatically increasing pay for first-year teachers, the district will give all teachers a 5% bump for cost of living as well as a one-time 6% pay boost based on their salaries. That means that a first-year teacher could earn a minimum $3,000 extra in one-time compensation.
Additionally, district and union leaders have agreed to create a task force that will look into how the district can revise teacher evaluations to factor in ways educators are working to improve their craft outside the classroom. That might include serving on a building leadership team or mentoring colleagues, according to CSEA President Joe Schott.
The Daily Sun-Up podcast | More episodes
District 11 is investing about $22.6 million total into teacher compensation, partly covered by more than $13 million in new state funding, a result of changes in how the state funds education, according to a presentation by the district.
The pay bump could have been even larger. District 11 received more funding per student under changes to the state funding mechanism — which allocates dollars to schools based on their student enrollments — but the district’s student count dropped by nearly 650 students this year, down to about 22,700 students.
“It’s a good boost that we got from the state this year, but also balancing that out with the number of students who have left District 11, it takes that number down from what we could have potentially seen,” District spokesperson Devra Ashby said Tuesday morning.
Superintendent Michael Gaal declined to comment on the agreement after the bargaining session, citing the need to wait until after it has been ratified.
Other district officials who were part of the negotiating team praised educators for their central role in the district.
“In the end, we’re all on the same team, and we’re depending on our teachers to educate these kids who are coming to us with all kinds of varied needs,” said Area Superintendent Darren Joiner.
Schott, of CSEA, also brought the attention of negotiations back to teachers.
“The money part gets a lot of attention, but this is really about two pieces — taking care of yourselves as professionals who have invested in a career and what that career is about, which is taking care of the students of our community,” Schott said. “And that’s not always easy.”
The new agreement, he added, has elevated District 11 to a place that treats educators as professionals.
“The compensation that we just bargained has moved District 11 to a strong place in the region when considering educator compensation,” Schott said. “The question of educator compensation in the state of Colorado remains a vexed issue. That’s not a problem that District 11 can solve by itself.”
Anton Schulzki, a social studies teacher at Palmer High School and a coordinator for the school’s International Baccalaureate Program, called the agreement “a very fair offer.” He has been fighting hard for higher pay for District 11 educators, including his two daughters who started teaching within the past five years.
“I’ve got two daughters who are going to be smiling,” he said following the meeting.
Schulzki, who has taught in District 11 for 40 years, has long worried about lagging pay for educators in their communities.
“If you’re not going to pay us a living wage, then you’re cutting your nose off in front of your face for supporting the actual community,” he said.
The agreement will next head to CSEA’s board for recommendation, followed by public presentations during which teachers can ask questions, Schott said. The union’s membership will then vote on the agreement by Monday afternoon and present it to the school board.