DougCo owes teachers and students better | Denver Gazette


If your employer paid you nearly $20,000 less than their closest competitor for the same type of work, would you feel satisfied enough to stay? For Douglas County teachers, this is all too real a scenario. Amid soaring living costs, teachers in Colorado earn an average of 35.9% less than their non-teaching counterparts, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute. This is the worst gap in the country.

At DougCo, the compensation situation is particularly critical: teacher compensation lags woefully behind close competitors. For example, DougCo’s average teacher salary is $18,000 ($58,000) less than the average salary of neighboring schools in Cherry Creek ($76,000).

Amid a growing national teacher shortage, it’s just not competitive.

Teachers are like us, aren’t they? Superintendent Erin Kane said on my September 24 KNUS radio show. “They try to do the best they can for their families and for their future. An $18,000 raise is something they can’t refuse. How to say no to that? Teachers have been breaking their backs trying to get students back on track in the wake of pandemic learning losses and tough disciplinary challenges. Remarkably, even with these challenges, DougCo students met or exceeded 2019 levels on most metrics.

“The best way to take care of our students and ensure their success is to attract and retain the best teachers and staff. Despite our superior performance, DCSD has the lowest average salary in the Denver metro area,” said DougCo School Board President Mike Peterson.

In March, the school board unanimously approved a ‘stepped’ compensation plan, which will increase the salaries of certified district employees (particularly teachers) while ensuring a clear and predictable pay scale and pay increases based on selected criteria.

However, adequate funding for the long-term stage and path means that voters must pass a factory tax waiver (property tax increase). State law dictates that operating expenses (including compensation) are funded first by property taxes, followed by state equalization dollars, to reach the total program funding for a given district. by the General Assembly.

“If we experience higher assessed values…and we collect more local property taxes, we just get less from the state,” Kane explained. “It does not change the size of our funding. The only way for a school district to change the size of our funding is to apply a factory tax waiver in our local communities.

The school board proposed a factory tax waiver (also known as MLO) on this year‘s ballot that would raise $60 million in additional property taxes, which equates to about $943 per student and would fill halfway through. way the revenue per student gap with Cherry Creek.

“Passing a factory tax waiver allows us to offer competitive pay and benefits to surrounding districts and support our entire community as Douglas County’s largest employer,” Peterson added.

The tax increase is proposed alongside a bond measure to finance the construction of new schools. Under state law, capital costs are funded exclusively by bonds.

Amazingly, a new neighborhood school hasn’t been built in DougCo since 2010. Now there just aren’t enough schools to keep up with population growth.

Parts of the county like Highlands Ranch are aging as older parents with adult children stay home. Further south, in new communities like The Canyons, Sterling Ranch and Crystal Valley, populations are booming – with no elementary school nearby.

This means that some families have to drive 30 minutes and cross the highway to get to the nearest school. Contrast that with Cherry Creek, which just opened a new elementary school literally down the street from an existing school!

The last time DougCo voters approved a bond/MLO package was in 2018. The MLO did not raise teachers’ salaries enough. Bond money strengthened existing school infrastructure rather than building new schools.

This time, however, there is a specific compensation program that voters can investigate. The cancellation of the factory tax is exclusively and explicitly intended for the remuneration of teachers and staff. Voters and teachers can be sure that their tax dollars will be spent on more compensation, as planned.

Also, unlike many school districts, DougCo doesn’t spend too much on bloated administration and bureaucracy rather than teaching and teacher compensation.

When Kane was the district’s acting superintendent from 2016 to 2018, they cut $24 million from headquarters in ongoing costs, moving it to the classroom. Additional cuts had to be made during the pandemic, she added.

“We have incredibly lean central administration and administration in general in Douglas County,” Kane explained. Eighty-five percent of total revenue is spent on salaries and benefits. Of that bucket, 95% goes to teachers and support staff, not administration.

The proposed bond would raise $216 million — expressly earmarked to build three new elementary schools, expand two middle schools, and fund additional maintenance of existing schools. This level of granular detail should encourage voters.

In July, US News & World Report ranked Douglas County as the ninth richest county in the entire country. Yet somehow teachers across the county are paid significantly less than their nearby competitors — and no neighborhood schools have been built in 12 years.

Let’s face it: teachers and students deserve better. Fortunately, DougCo voters have a significant opportunity to do better.

Jimmy Sengenberger hosts “The Jimmy Sengenberger Show” Saturdays from 6-9am on News/Talk 710 KNUS. He also hosts “Jimmy at the Crossroads”, a webcast and podcast in partnership with The Washington Examiner.


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