The Dolores School District Re-4A Board of Education voted to raise district teachers’ salaries for the 2018-2019 school year during a special meeting on May 24.
Many of the district’s teachers, including several who attended the special meeting, said they wouldn’t sign a contract for next year unless their salaries were increased. Several teachers and other staff members have resigned after a year of upheaval for the district. The raise will add about $780 annually to teachers’ base salaries next year, in addition to the regularly scheduled step increases.
Board President Dee Prock said that after a year of controversy and staff turnover in Dolores, it was important to boost the remaining teachers’ morale and avoid losing any more to higher-paying districts.
“I’m getting frustrated with hearing the words, ‘The school is falling apart,’” she said. “I don’t feel like the school is crumbling. I don’t feel like it’s falling apart. I feel like our employees, all the staff, really hold things together.”
She added that failing to keep the district’s wages competitive would cause more problems.
Board member Casey McClellan suggested the board wait to approve a salary increase until after the final 2018-2019 budget is ready, which Finance Director Doreen Jones said would happen in a few weeks. He also said he was concerned about increasing salaries right after approving the controversial, grant-funded school-based health clinic. In its previous regular meeting, the board voted to award a bid to Weeminuche Construction that includes an unfunded cost of $90,000. McClellan said he was worried about going over the district’s budget.
“That’s no way to run a business,” he said.
Prock said the funds for the clinic and for teacher salaries come from different sources, and that teachers should be the board’s priority. Superintendent Scott Cooper said the district has been able to pay its bills with budgeted funds for about 10 consecutive years, and it has a large amount of reserve funds for emergencies.
“We’re very healthy financially,” he said.
Several teachers in the audience told the board that they needed a significant raise in order to make ends meet. Fourth-grade teacher Sherry Grazda said she works part-time jobs outside the school district “just to pay bills.” Other teachers said they could easily find better-paying jobs in other districts including the nearby Mancos district.
Despite his objections, McClellan joined the rest of the board in voting unanimously to approve the raise. The audience responded with applause.
The board also approved a special contract for Meg Neely, a teacher who offered to spend the last few months before her retirement filling in for a third-grade teacher who is going on maternity leave. Over objections from McClellan, who said it would set a harmful precedent, the board agreed to pay her more than the standard substitute teacher salary because of the length and intensity of the teaching assignment. The contract was approved in a 3-1 vote, with McClellan voting against it. Board member Vangi McCoy was absent.
The board also discussed the creation of a committee to find an interim superintendent after Cooper leaves. They agreed to put together a group of 10 people, including two board members, teachers from each school, and student and parent representatives. Candidates will be interviewed in a public meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday.