May 16, 2013 Updated: May 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm
For the first time in four years, Colorado Springs School District 11's 3,800 employees will get a noticeable boost in their paychecks in the fall.
Kelly Stroup, a social studies teacher at Doherty High School, said the new $9.3 million wage and benefits package is a welcomed relief.
"When you're consistently given the message there's not money for compensation, it begins to make you feel like you're not valued," she said. "I know quite a few teachers who have left because of it."
In a special meeting Wednesday evening, D-11's board of education decided to reduce two scheduled unpaid furlough days to one, on April 18, 2014. Two furlough days have been required for the past two years.
Under the negotiated agreement, which 82 percent of the district's 1,900 teachers ratified, all D-11 employees will receive a 4 percent one-time bonus, to be paid in two installments for teachers and on Oct. 1 for other employees.
In addition, top executives will receive a 1 percent raise, and 1,600 support staff will get a 10-cent-per-hour annual increase. The district also will pick up a 2.8 percent increase in insurance premiums for employees and beef up retirement contributions by .9 percent.
Investing in employees is an investment for the schools and the community, Superintendent Nicholas Gledich said at a news conference Thursday.
"When you can compensate your employees, they have stronger morale and performance, which increases the benefits in the classroom," he said. "It's imperative that we remain competitive."
Increased state funding for education, coupled with better returns on investments and $7.1 million from selling the former Irving and Jefferson schools, enabled D-11 to offer the deal, according to Gledich.
Nearly 90 percent of the district's budget is spent on labor, he added. The proposed general fund budget for next school year is about $222 million, up from this school year's $216 million. The budget will be decided next month.
Compensation negotiations between the district and employee unions began in January and continued into the spring. Bargaining was extensive and difficult, said Kevin Vick, president of the Colorado Springs Education Association.
"There were some challenges," he said, which were worked out "once you realize this is the best you can do and this is what's on the table."
Between state budget freezes, spending restrictions and D-11's declining enrollment, "the last four years have been very tough for the district to weather," Vick said. "Having a significant amount of money back into our pockets seems like a positive step forward."
Even with the improved compensation, D-11, the largest school district in the area, lags behind others.
The base teacher salary for D-11 will remain at $31,887 for the 2013-2014 academic year, said Mary Thurman, deputy superintendent.
In comparison, the starting teacher salary in the fall at Academy School District 20, the region's second largest district, will be $35,155, according to spokeswoman Nanette Anderson.
D-20 is increasing employee compensation for the 2013-14 school year by $6.7 million, providing a four percent salary increase and a benefits boost for its 2,791 employees, including 1,618 teachers, Anderson said.
Falcon School District 49 also is mulling raises, said spokeswoman Stephanie Wurtz. The D-49 board of education will discuss recommendations at a work session May 29. But it won't be until the board adopts a 2013-2014 budget in June that employees will find whether their paychecks will be bigger.
Neither D-20 nor D-49 has mandated furlough days as a budget-saving measure in recent times.