The Dolores school board, meeting Wednesday in a special workshop to discuss the preliminary 2018-2019 budget, focused on opportunities for savings and teachers’ salaries.
“The majority of your budget is going to be salaries and benefits,” Financial Director Doreen Jones said. “Substitute salaries went over in all the departments this year. What I have done is, I preliminary proposed to move them up to what we had this year and be a little more careful with substitutes and make sure that if they are supposed to be paid for by a grant, that they will indeed be paid for by a grant.”
Jones also asked the board for suggestions so she could prepare the budget for approval at the board meeting on June 26.
The board discussion included Jones, elementary Principal Gary Livick, secondary Principal Jen Hufman and Interim Superintendent Phil Kasper. Audience participation was also allowed.
“I want this to be a transparent conversation so it is not something that is hidden from the public in any way,” Kasper said.
According to Jones, by reducing substitute teachers’ salaries to their “original amount,” total savings would be $37,000.
The board gave permission for those changes and a reduction in legal fee allocation from $50,000 to $20,000.
The district also will save money in administrative salary costs because Kasper asked that his benefit package be reduced and added into his salary.
“Right now, the total salary package with benefits ... is roughly $18,900, and we will not be paying that for Phil,” Jones said. “He has asked that we do part of the benefits into the salary so it is $2,000 less than what I have budgeted.”
Other discussion during the workshop focused on the teacher shortage in Colorado and the school’s participation in the Boettcher teacher residency program.
According to Jones, the district has budgeted $26,000 per student teacher based on para-professional schedules and benefits.
The board and audience wanted the student teachers to sign a contract to stay in Dolores because of this line item.
“The bottom line is we do not know how good they are going to be or if they are going to stick around – it is just a guess,” board Treasurer Casey McClellan said. “It is great they are local – that means something – but there is no way of knowing.”
McClellan suggested that the district match the Durango district’s pay of $6,500 per person.
“Durango does not have the problem recruiting that we do,” Livick said. “This is our biggest issue. If we do not go right, it is all for naught. If we can’t get quality teachers in our classrooms and keep them there, then none of this is going to work.”
Livick said that from his experience, Boettcher residents who complete the program perform as well as third-year teachers.
Board Vice President Kay Phelps admitted a bias as an assistant professor in education at Fort Lewis College, and noted her concern about alternative licensing.
“When I look at the rigor of a four-year program, it is really hard to fathom that students can actually get that but of the licensure programs that I have looked at.” Phelps said. “Boettcher is very reputable, and I am happy with Boettcher, but I still have some reservations.”
In response, Sharon Maxwell, field manager for the Boettcher teacher residency program, cited Boettcher teachers’ statistics of staying in the education field.
“After five years, 95 percent of our teachers are still teaching, whereas people coming out of a regular college teacher prep program, it is about 50 percent that are still teaching after five years,” Maxwell said.
The board made no specific recommendation to Jones about the salaries of student teachers.
The 2018-2019 budget will be acted upon by the board on June 26.
Phelps proceeded over the meeting in the absence of board President Dee Prock, who is traveling.