Elizabeth School District to implement new pay scale to retain, attract teachers

Elizabeth School District implementing new pay scale hoping to retain, attract teachers
Posted at 9:36 PM, Mar 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-11 17:07:49-04

ELIZABETH — ELIZABETH, Colo. — Elizabeth School District will implement a new pay scale this fall to attract teachers to the rural Colorado school district and retain educators.

The pay changes come at a time when rural schools are struggling to keep teachers in classrooms. According to the Colorado Education Association, the average teacher salary is roughly 37% less than other professionals with college degrees.

Adam Peyton has been teaching for 13 years and currently works at Elizabeth High School. He said the most challenging part of his job is the pay.

“When I taught in Ohio, I taught in one of the 10 lowest paying districts in the state. And then, I took a pay cut to come and teach here in Elizabeth," said Peyton. “Trying to make rent and trying to cover my bills on what I make as a teacher is hard, and you have to learn to stretch the budget.”

Peyton is the chair of the Teacher Advisory Committee for Elizabeth School District. He said teachers were involved with the development of the new compensation plan.

“A lot of teachers didn't realize that they wanted the change before it came their way. So I think it's important to understand that this isn't being forced on us," said Peyton.

The plan was brought to the school district by Superintendent Dan Snowberger, who implemented a similar system in 2016 when he worked at Durango School District. Snowberger said that pay system is still in place in Durango.

Currently, the starting salary for a teacher in Elizabeth School District is $40,000, depending on college degrees and experience. Snowberger said in neighboring Douglas County, a teacher's starting salary is around $50,000.

"The school finance system is broken in Colorado. We don't get funded like Douglas County does. And so, rural districts are competing against ridiculous funding that's inequitable across the state," said Snowberger. “All districts are having to compete. This is how we're competing."

The new pay scale will first raise the starting salary to $43,000 a year.

Teachers will be sorted into the different phases of the plan based on their prior salary, experience, entry degree and credits. Movement after that will be in the hands of the employee, according to the school district.

In Phase 1, teachers will receive an annual raise of $1,000. A point system then takes an active role in teacher pay in Phase 2. Points can be gathered in Phase 1, but are not required for the annual raise of $1,000.

Points are earned through a variety of ways, including leadership, certification, performance, community involvement, committee work, club sponsorship, and knowledge or skills.

Points accumulated in Phase 2 determine movement along the salary scale. When 100 points are accumulated, a teacher will receive a $3,500 raise the following school year. Movement is not likely to happen every year.

“We're empowering you to move on that system by your contributions to our school district," Snowberger said. “This is a pay system that empowers our teachers. So, no longer are you stuck on survival, coming back to get a small pay bump, or going and investing in a college education to get additional pay. You now are being recognized for leadership, for professional development that you choose to engage in to improve your own skills.”

Snowberger said every returning teacher automatically receives 25 points.

Phase 3 is the retirement track for teachers, which aims to recognize the contribution of teachers throughout their careers. The salaries in Phase 3 range from $83,000 to $86,000.

Over the next seven years, the school district anticipates adding anywhere from 500 to 1,000 students across their four schools.

“Coming to Elizabeth, where many districts in the metro area are starting to shrink and, I think, cuts are coming in for teachers, I think Elizabeth of the district that's going to continue to grow," said Snowberger.

Despite the expected growth, Snowberger said the school district prides itself on classroom sizes. For high school teachers, there is a ratio of one teacher per 25 students.

Peyton believes the new pay structure will allow for more flexibility in his budget during the coming school year.

The compensation plan received a 77% approval vote from staff participants in favor of the change. Concerns about the plan were addressed through amendments, according to Peyton and Snowberger.

“We're changing the way people get paid. And as I said, paychecks are important. And suddenly, we're telling people, 'Oh, the system that you've relied on at least for your entire career is going to change.' And that caused some concerns, some questions, and there's a level of discomfort with the unknown," Peyton explained. “It's never fun to be the experiment. But sometimes, the benefits can come significantly that way.”

Snowberger said another issue the district wants to address is Elizabeth's lack of affordable housing. Those plans are still in development.

Snowberger said the plan is not dependent on a mill levy to be sustainable. The Financial Advisory Committee reviewed the plan and found it's possible through a school board commitment of 81% of funds toward salaries in the budget. However, Snowberger said if a mill levy were approved by the community, the base salary could increase.

Elizabeth School District is hosting a job fair on March 9, where they are seeking applicants for a variety of positions, including teachers, substitutes, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, and facilities staff. The job fair will be at Elizabeth High School from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A previous version of this article referred to the superintendent as "Dr. Dan Snowberger." The article has been amended because Snowberger does not hold a doctorate degree.

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