Dear DCSD Board, Interim Superintendent, and Cabinet Members:
At the June 6, 2017 board meeting, cabinet and board members expressed agreement that teachers and staff need to be paid more, and we appreciate and agree with the sentiment. At the very least, increasing teacher and staff pay is necessary for DCSD to become competitive with surrounding districts, but additionally, this is necessary to demonstrate that the DCSD values its employees. As you stated at the meeting, the 2% average raise is woefully inadequate, and to quote Director Geddes, “How can you have pay for performance when you can’t pay for performance?” His statement is truer than than many might know. Using the current controversial evaluation coupled with the flawed pay for performance system, a teacher whose salary is $45,000 and who earned an Innovative rating (above Proficient) earns merely an additional $11.25 per month, before taxes. Teachers were promised real rewards for their additional work; all of our educators deserve better.
Surrounding districts have approved far greater pay raises than DCSD. For example, this year Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) is offering a 3.3% market adjustment in addition to step increases between 3-8%, for a total raise of 6.3-11.3% and an additional raise of 2-5% for knowledge level advancement (KLA). In other words, some teachers in CCSD who have worked towards a first or second Master’s degree are getting raises of 8.3-16.3%. Even if DCSD cuts administrative department budgets and is able to give teachers and staff a 6% increase this year, we will not close the gap with this neighboring district.
Some on the board believe that increasing pay is the only way to improve employee morale; we know for a fact that this is not the case. Educators recognize the constraints of working within a budget. In the past, when the district worked collaboratively with the Douglas County Federation, teachers voted for a pay freeze and had much higher staff morale, as measured by the district’s own employee survey. This is because both organizations worked together on the budget, teachers and staff knew that their voices were heard, and they knew that the district was being transparent. Unfortunately, with an increase of over $21 million in administrative department budgets over the past three school years and no one representing teachers and staff working collaboratively on the budget, employees do not trust that our finances are as dire as what is presented. The DCF executive board knows that the budget can be re-worked to decrease administrative spending and prioritize spending on those who work directly with our students.
Finally, one director’s suggestion at a recent meeting (along with complementary tweets) demonstrates a lack of basic understanding of public budgeting. The suggestion was that parents need to start paying more fees for services and activities such as “football, choir, food, childcare, and busses.” Parents pay fees for football and other extracurricular activities; the fees are used to cover the costs for the activity and cannot be used for salary increases. Choir is among many performing and practical arts electives that meet graduation requirements, without which the graduation rates in DCSD could potentially drop. The district subsidizes food only by absorbing the costs from voluntarily discontinuing the federal reimbursement program, acknowledging that nutrition services are a successful enterprise. An increase of bus fees would likely result in fewer families using busses, resulting in great traffic issues around our schools. None of these options is a practical solution for the funding of salary increases. Additionally, if our district wants to compete for students with surrounding districts, asking for increased payment from parents for these important services and activities is a bad decision.
There are two famous sayings that apply to this important issue. First is that the budget reflects the values of the organization. Second is to put your money where your mouth is. Providing frontline workers in our schools with only a 2% raise demonstrates how little the majority of the Board values teachers and makes many of their words ring hollow. It’s time for the entire Board to prioritize teaching and learning in our district and give teachers a fair, substantial, and well deserved raise–a raise significantly higher than 2%. This is not an issue of the ability as much as it is a willingness to pay–pure and simple.