Douglas County teachers urge better pay

District still at work on compensation overhaul


Several educators made impassioned pleas asking school board directors to improve teacher pay in the Douglas County School District two weeks after the board held a lengthy discussion about overhauling compensation for licensed staff.

The board at its Feb. 18 meeting also discussed a resolution that would have provided staff with additional guidelines as they research transitioning to a new compensation system for all employees.

The board voted the resolution down in a 3-3 decision. Directors Kevin Leung, Anthony Graziano and Christina Ciancio-Schor voted against the resolution. Director Susan Meek was absent from the vote. Motions must be passed by a majority of directors present.

The resolution stated the board “directs the superintendent to consider the following when developing the district's future compensation system” for the upcoming school year:

• Assure the employees who remain in their full-time position won't see a cut in base pay

• Conduct a cost analysis for offering cost-of-living increases to any employee whose salary is not increased by the compensation system

• Evaluate whether current district assets could be converted to compensation revenue

• Explore cost-saving measures the district could use in its budget to increase revenue for compensation

Leung feared the resolution was premature in the review of DCSD's compensation structure and that it promised specific action. Graziano said it could box the district in as it explores ways to fund a more competitive compensation package. Ciancio-Schor was uncomfortable passing the resolution before the district ramps up its budget talks and has more data available, she said.

Board President David Ray was a passionate advocate for the resolution. He disagreed with Leung, arguing it did not make specific commitments and merely directed staff to explore numerous ways to improve compensation.

Public comment from teachers at the beginning of the meeting, in which some stated they might leave the district if compensation isn't improved soon, shows compensation is an urgent matter, Ray said.

“We have to give our staff some kind of hope that shows that this board does act, this board does communicate values,” Ray said. “We're at the end of February, and March is the pinnacle of hiring season for all our districts. And if we don't send a message to our employees right away that says we're going to do everything possible to make this work, I think we will lose employees again like we saw back in 2008.”

Director Krista Holtzmann said the resolution only asked staff to seek more information on cost of living increases, more revenue sources and decreasing expenses in the district, and made no promises. Although, she noted roughly 85% of the budget goes toward staffing needs.

“I'm not sure we're going to find a whole lot of expenses to cut,” she said, “but it's still worth asking if they could take a second look.”

The district has poured $60 million into compensation since 2016 and successfully passed a mill levy override in 2018 that garnered $14 million for salaries. Still, board members and many teachers say DCSD's compensation isn't competitive enough in the market to recruit and retain top teachers.

On Feb. 4, staff presented a sample salary schedule for the board to analyze as it considers moving to a traditional step-and-lane structure. Step-and-lane structures generally allow teachers to progress in a pay schedule for attaining more education and for their years with a district, although additional factors beyond years of experience would determine in they move steps in Douglas County.

The draft schedule would take $6.8 million to fully implement in year one but the district has only $2.1 million in revenue for compensation, at the most, Chief Financial Officer Scott Smith said Feb. 4.

Multiple directors asked staff if the district could be operated more efficiently or if cuts could be made anywhere in the budget to find more money for compensation.

Teachers that spoke out about compensation on Feb. 18, many of which are members of the local union, Douglas County Federation, had a clear message for the board: Budget what you value.

Clear Sky Elementary teacher and DCF member Shannon Yoshioka grew emotional telling the board how her salary was frozen in her third year with the district for the next four years.

She couldn't afford bills or furthering her education, she said. It took her 17 out of her 19 years in teaching to reach a $60,000 salary. A schedule like the sample discussed Feb. 4 would not retain teachers, she said, and would not give her a raise in the remainder of her teaching career.

“I believe we will see another mass exodus again. That is not good for children, it is not good for our communities,” she said if the district adopts a similar schedule to the sample.

She urged the board to work with the union and teachers as they revamp compensation.

The district's latest strategic plan names recruitment, retention and employee development as one of its major themes. Developing a predictable compensation schedule is the first action item in that part of the plan. The schedule should acknowledge experience, longevity, knowledge and performance, according to the strategic plan.

DCF member and Legend High School English teacher Acacia Fante asked why the district promoted the strategic plan “if you weren't able to follow through on the action steps within the strategic plan.”

“We have been told to trust the process, yet we are still here feeling as if we are shouting at the wind. Wait a little longer, be patient, is what many employees have done for years,” she said. “We must do better. Time is up. Has our time been worth it? We hope the answer is yes.”

Ray reminded teachers this “is just the beginning of the process” and the district has more work to do before proposing or approving a new salary structure.

“I would just say that I tried to build the case for why there's a sense of urgency and think it's very unfortunate that this board is not pushing something forward to show that there is some kind of response to the desperation that we heard tonight from our employees,” Ray said.


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