The school district’s July 17 move to change a decision date for retiring teachers means it will use contingency funds to help give staff a promised 1 percent raise.
The Douglas County School District plans to finance a permanent 1 percent raise by phasing out three teachers’ compensation programs, including the extended-service severance that gives retiring teachers about $37,000 each.
The board in early July approved language that required teachers eligible for retirement to make that decision by July 25. Failing that, they’d miss the full payout.
When teachers objected, saying the deadline didn’t allow them enough time to make necessary arrangements, district officials agreed to instead give them almost a full year to make that decision. But the move cost officials some of the funds they’d thought would help pay for the raise.
Temporarily, the district will bridge that gap with contingency funds, this year using about $2 million of the $5 million fund.
“We did agree to make a commitment to those that would retire at the end of 2013 that we would hold this money aside for them into the future,” said the district’s chief financial officer, Bonnie Betz. “As we’re phasing it out, we will take (money) out of the contingency fund, probably for the next two years.
“We expect most of those individuals that are going to be eligible will have retired by the end of June 2013.”
The change is a relief for Debbie St. Martin, who planned to retire at the end of the 2012-13 school year. When the fifth-grade Arrowwood Elementary teacher learned about the initial July 25 deadline, she feared she’d have to forgo her last year to ensure she got her severance check.
“I was in a panic,” said St. Martin, who spoke to the board about her concerns July 17. “Now I am going to go according to the plan. I will be retiring at the end of this school year.”
The district sees the severance checks as an incentive for its most experienced teachers to leave the classroom, something school leaders want to change.
“We would rather not give them a lot of money to leave,” Betz said. “We’d much rather pay them for the good work they do now.”
The district also will phase out programs that reward teachers for earning advanced degrees and time served. Like the severance program, those must be ramped down over time. Teachers who already have earned pay increases for longevity and continuing education will not lose that money.
District employees also will receive a 1 percent retention bonus, with that money coming from savings in the utilities, medical fund and substitute teacher budgets.
Eliminating the three compensation programs was among the sticking points in recent negotiations between union and school district representatives. The two sides failed to reach consensus, and the agreement expired June 30. The union asked the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to help break the stalemate between the two, but it has so far not made a decision on the request.