ALAMOSA – For the first time in roughly 20 years, teachers employed by the Alamosa School District (ASD) will receive a substantial raise – not the 1% - 2% cost of living adjustment but a raise of 8% across the board that actually brings wages closer in line with the cost of living in Alamosa.
Support and paraprofessional staff will receive that same raise, as well.
Included in the agreement was a new insurance benefits package that requires no co-pays for those who are insured.
Also, in a major win for encouraging retired teachers to return to the classroom, there was also an agreement allowing teachers to return to working even if they are retired – without it impacting their retirement and allowing them to return at the same level of pay they received when they left.
The increase will now bring ASD salaries more in line – and more competitive – with other larger districts outside of the San Luis Valley.
Starting with the 2022-2023 school year, a first-year teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree will earn an annual salary of $40,358, not including paid insurance for the employee plus vacation and sick days. That is up from a base salary of $37,274 this fiscal year.
The agreement was reached at the end of May following negotiations between six individuals representing the ASD Administration – the superintendent, assistant superintendent, two principals, two board members and the Business Manager, who advised but did not negotiate.
Seven union members from the Alamosa Education Association (AEA) negotiated on behalf of the teachers, including the two AEA co-presidents and five teachers.
But there were a great deal more people in the room (literally and virtually) than just the thirteen negotiators present. The AEA wanted the negotiation process to be public and transparent and, thanks to ASD making it available to view on Zoom, more than 90 teachers attended the sessions, either online or in person.
“We had four negotiation sessions,” says Luis Murillo, ASD Assistant Superintendent. “The fourth session lasted ten hours.”
In meeting with ASD Superintendent Dr. Jones, Assistant Superintendent Luis Murillo and AEA Co-presidents Kathy West and Myra Manzanares to discuss the agreement, it was clear around the table that this was not a zero-sum game negotiation with winners and losers. There was a general consensus that the final result was an agreement that all seemed pleased with.
“We have some teachers working two and three jobs just to make it,” said Manzanares. “And we did our homework. We came to the negotiations with a lot of information in hand and we gave a very good presentation to administration, including where the resources were in the district budget for the raise.”
But it would seem that the raise was about more than just numbers on a ledger or money in a bank account, as distinctly significant as that clearly is.
As Manzanares put it, “With this agreement, we feel valued and heard.”
After several-decades with no significant salary increases capped off with several very challenging and, at times, conflictual years, that was a significant statement.
“This agreement is directly in line with our strategic plan,” Murillo said, “and addressed one of our strategic goals to improve recruitment and retention.”
From the administrators’ point of view, the negotiated agreement was a crucial part of a larger process that involved five listening sessions with teachers, parents, students, community members. The listening sessions were facilitated in conjunction with Colorado Education Initiative, a non-profit group specializing in “accelerating educational innovation improvement in school districts across Colorado.”
“We want school to be a happy place, a place where people enjoy working and learning,” Murillo said. The ASD/CEI listening sessions and discussions have led to concrete steps toward beginning to make that a reality.
“Teachers said they wanted more access to mental health services, so we have implemented that,” Murillo said. “They also said they were happiest when they were learning new things, new approaches, something other than the PDFs we have to hand out for training sometimes, as required by state law.”
That “something else” has evolved into a Professional Development Program including a long list of seminars, workshops and sometimes learning sessions with fellow teachers who are especially adept at areas where they can train other teachers.
“It’s all part of a bigger picture,” Murillo said. But a big piece of that bigger picture starts with the difference that will be made in teachers’ lives with the implementation of a raise.
This is anything but a finished process and is, instead, more like a first step. The agreement is in place for a year, at which time it will likely be renegotiated.
There are also new decisions that are being discussed, including a transition to a four-day school week, which is advocated for by more than 80% of both parents and teachers.
But that decision will only come after significant work and consideration, starting with the creation of a committee of individuals who will look at the proposal from all sides. “We don’t want to rush into this,” said Dr. Jones. “We don’t want to be in a hurry and then look back and see where we made mistakes as other districts have done. We want to consider all the implications and make sure that we include those in our transition.”
But it’s clearly a solid idea on the horizon as, just a few weeks into letting people know they’re taking applications to be on the committee, more than seventeen individuals have expressed an interest.
“This is all just part of going forward, Murillo said. “And it’s only just begun.”