Jeffco board likely won’t add more money for teacher raises next year

GOLDEN — The majority of the Jefferson County school board signaled Tuesday it had no intention of steering more money into teacher pay in its next budget.

The increased amount earmarked for employee compensation, about $12 million, coupled with ongoing teacher contract negotiations has become the latest political hot potato in the suburban school district.

The Jefferson County Education Association said the district needs to put more money on the negotiating table, especially if it wants to lure new hires by paying teachers more early in their career and compensating for advanced degrees.

But both board chairman Ken Witt and secretary John Newkirk said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that the district could not afford more money for raises.

The standoff between the school district and its board and the teachers union potentially means school principals won’t be able to fill about 300 open teaching positions before school starts in August.

The budget as proposed, includes $5.2 million for raises, $5 million for health insurance and retirement benefits, $1.2 million to pay for master’s degrees and other factors, and $763,000 for substitute teacher raises.

“These problems weren’t created by this board, they were inherited by this board,” Newkirk said, referring to the approximately $27 million in pay freezes teachers have lived through since the Great Recession. “It’s going to take more time and money than we have in this budget cycle.”

He added, “I think [$12 million in compensation increases is] reasonable for what we have to work with.”

Jeffco is receiving about $19.3 million more dollars from the state this year than last. But that’s a small increase for a billion-dollar budget.

Next school year will be the first per pupil funding is greater than pre-recession levels in Jefferson County. In the 2009-2010 school year, Jeffco received $7,070 per pupil. In 2015-2016 the per pupil funding will be $7,109. Per pupil funding was at its lowest, $6,309, during the 2011-2012 school year.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper said teachers aren’t asking for all $27 million back. But she said the district should find another $3.5 million for compensation. That additional amount would allow the district to pay new hires and 1,600 veteran teachers a comparable salary, district officials said.

“This budget doesn’t cut it in terms of compensation,” Dahlkemper said.

About a dozen Jefferson County residents and teachers spoke during public comment. Most suggested the board find more money to increase pay for district veterans.

“We are not prioritizing the most important element of my children’s education — their teachers,” said Lisa Cook, a Jeffco parent.

The school board will hold another public hearing on the budget June 11. By law, the board must adopt a budget for next school year by June 30.

The next bargaining session between the district and JCEA is scheduled for June 10.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the district planned to spend an extra $12 million on teacher compensation. That amount is for all employees, not just licensed staff.