Recently, the Post Independent Editorial Board said, “Raising teacher compensation in the Roaring Fork School District is undoubtedly a reasonable policy goal,” but also encouraged us to “continue to seek other ways to improve the quality of life for our teachers and our district. Staff. âWe couldn’t agree more.
A key goal first established in a strategic planning process in 2013 was to make Roaring Fork schools a great place to work and learn for staff and students. We know that an engaged and successful workforce is key to retaining and recruiting staff and crucial to fulfilling our mission with students. We monitor this target through annual staff surveys. So we know that 88% of teachers say RFSD is a great place to work. It means more than just paying people a living wage, and for years we have used cost neutral strategies as well as expensive investments.
First and foremost, the work in schools has meaning. We think of all of our employees as educators, and most of them – food service workers, bus drivers, secretaries and custodians, in addition to teachers and principals – work with it every day. children, help them learn, keep them safe and invest in their future. This sense of meaning and purpose is the reason why most educators have chosen it as their profession, and it is what keeps them in the field despite their remuneration that lags behind other fields.
A second non-financial contributor to employee satisfaction is being able to work in an environment characterized by respect, trust, collaboration, empowerment and support. We create these conditions by giving our teachers the time and resources to work collectively to study their practice, make decisions about the program, and work as a team to solve problems. Each school has a management team that strengthens the voice of teachers in decision-making; creates, implements and monitors strategic objectives; and responds to the concerns and needs of staff.
Knowing that conflict will arise, we have used a collaborative problem-solving approach called âInterest-Based Negotiationâ for over 20 years. Unlike the industrial labor collective bargaining model used in most school districts to negotiate teacher pay and working conditions, BWI is sometimes referred to as win-win bargaining because it seeks to meet the needs of both parties. According to teacher Autumn Rivera, âIBB has no levels or hierarchy. We are all part of the same team and we are fighting for what is best for our students and our staff.
Shifting from intangible investments to more tangible investments, we strongly believe in the health and well-being of employees. In fact, our IBB group recommended several years ago a smaller salary increase for teachers to pay for health insurance for all district employees. Knowing that our health insurance costs in this valley are about $ 6,000 more per employee than a district in Denver, this was a significant investment in health. We also launched an employee-led wellness program in 2019 that provides tools, resources, incentives and education to help employees become healthier physically, mentally and financially.
Another investment much appreciated by teachers and parents is the small class size. Again, our IBB group continually decides to keep classes smaller – we have an average of 19 in our elementary schools – rather than shifting those resources to salaries. In doing so, they prioritize the working conditions and learning of their students over remuneration.
We were one of the first districts, not only in Colorado but nationally, to successfully launch a staff housing program. With voter support in 2015, we were able to build a total of 66 staff rental units and provide affordable housing options in each community through our bonding program. While we have not been able to use those bond dollars for things like increasing staff salaries because bonds cannot be used for recurring expenses like salaries, being able to provide Affordable Staff Housing Nearly 10% of our workforce plays a critical role in ensuring that we can retain and recruit staff. By using the program revenues, combined with the land made available to school districts through housing development, we will be able to expand our staff housing program over time.
One of the benefits for many school district employees is compatibility with family schedules and calendars. But parents still need quality child care. We run a fully accredited early years program in each of our five elementary schools, and our staff are given priority enrollment in this program. Currently, more than 50 staff, or 25% of the total workforce, benefit from this benefit.
Our friends at Post Independent made a few more suggestions worth considering, such as “more paid time off, flexible hours and the ability to work remotely.” We offer a competitive holiday policy and as much flexibility as possible, even if every day a highly qualified teacher is absent from the classroom means less learning. The experience of distance learning during the pandemic has affirmed the importance of being in person with students whenever possible, but we have already increased our use of remote work and meetings.
Finally, it is the region that attracts and retains many of our employees, and we benefit from the generosity of partner organizations who offer preferential rates to make some of the valley’s most beautiful attractions accessible. As the Post Independent claims, having a good job means having a living wage and more. We will continue to look for other ways to make our school district a great place to work.
Rob Stein is Principal of the Roaring Fork District Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.