Douglas County high school teachers will bear the brunt of the remaining district shortfall in the 2012-13 school year.
In an effort to reduce class sizes swollen by teacher layoffs, keep electives threatened by budget cuts and cushion elementary and middle schools from further financial pain, high school teachers are asked to add another class to their schedules. The change will save the district about $3.6 million, a small but significant chunk of the $18.1 million shortfall it faces.
While the district sees the plan as more positive than not, teachers aren't so sure. They'll lose planning time and hours often used to help struggling students, while increasing class load, they say.
Most high schools will adopt a block schedule, with all eight sessions offered one day a week, and two four-session days the remainder of the week.
“For teachers and students alike, I think the most concerning thing is we won't be able to see our kids every day,” said Legend High School Spanish teacher Tina Stroman. “Sometimes we'll only see our students twice a week. Incorporating online learning is going to be key, so kids are engaged every day whether they're in the classroom or outside of the classroom.”
Adding another class will put further strain on already overtaxed teachers, many of whom are working second jobs to make ends meet.
“Whether you have five students or 50 students, it takes a lot of energy to teach,” said Maria Volker, a Spanish teacher at Highlands Ranch High School and the school's teacher's union representative.
Faced with further cuts, school board President John Carson said high schools were the only logical choice. Setting a firm foundation in subjects like reading, writing and math helps ensure success in high school and beyond, he said.
“I think professional educators will tell you to maximize the dollars and programming at the lowest age level possible,” Carson said. “If you don't address slippage in reading skills at a very early age, it becomes very difficult to catch up.”
The proposed contract also calls for teachers district-wide to work an additional non-contact day, in which students are not in schools but teachers are. Although the contract includes a 1 percent pay increase, some say the added day washes it out.
“It is not a raise,” Volker said. “It's compensation for your work. Phrase it like it is.”
The district also proposes a 1 percent retention bonus.
If the final contract includes only a 1 percent raise, Stroman said she'll take it.
“With the retention bonus, technically, it's 2 percent,” she said. “After many years of nothing, at least it is something. My great hope is the economy is turning around, and great things are happening. Maybe next year it'll be 5 percent.”
Volker recognizes the district is trying to retain and reward its teachers for putting forth their best efforts despite the financial challenges.
“Even in the four years of having no pay raise, test scores haven't gone down, they've gone up,” Volker said. “We have excellent teachers, and they recognize that.”
Volker and Stroman both say they've thought about leaving the district. The students keep them here.
“Could I make more money somewhere else? Probably,” Stroman said. “But this is my community. I just have this special place in my heart for this school district because there are amazing kids here. At the end of the day, that's what matters the most.”