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Proposal to freeze part of teachers' pay in Colorado Springs school district halts contract talks

April 26, 2016 Updated: April 26, 2016 at 8:55 pm
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A proposal to once again freeze a portion of salary increases for teachers in the Pikes Peak region's largest school district halted union contract negotiations the day they started.

Bargaining on the 2016-2017 compensation package for Colorado Springs School District 11 teachers stopped soon after beginning on April 18.

The Colorado Springs Education Association called for a facilitator to help with the process of what bargaining team members described in a letter to its members as a "miniscule offer" that is "unacceptable."

A federal mediator has been used for the negotiation process for four years, said D-11 spokeswoman Devra Ashby.

Negotiations resumed Monday, under the direction of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. There's no cost to the district or the teachers' union for the service, Ashby said.

D-11 has the region's only collective bargaining educators' union. In the district's initial offer, D-11 officials proposed freezing pay boosts based on both education and experience of teachers.

The initial offer also included a small percentage increase for all teachers, a one-time bonus, no insurance premium increases and an additional contribution to teachers' pension plans.

The D-11 board of education will discuss the issue at a public work session Wednesday night, following the conclusion of a board meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m.

Teachers saw a 1 percent raise this school year, and all employees received a one-time bonus of 4 percent.

Some 1,850 teachers in D-11 also received a 1 percent raise in 2014-2015, following five years of no increases for "steps," a traditional system of pay advancement based on years of service.

For the 2013-2014 academic year, employees received a one-time bonus, the first salary increase in four years. Mandatory unpaid furlough days also had been implemented in the past, due to the recession and decreased state funding for public schools.

Teachers are angry about this year's initial offer.

"Freezing the pay scale is a very bad idea," said one teacher who asked not to be identified. "Teachers are tired of doing more and getting paid less. And being blamed for the students' failures."

In a letter sent last week to district employees and the seven-member school board, Superintendent Nicholas Gledich said state funding "continues to be a challenge for next year."

Preliminary numbers indicate D-11 will be impacted due to declining enrollment, Gledich wrote.

"As a result, we are anticipating less than a 1 percent increase in recurring funding for next year," he said.

State lawmakers have yet to approve next year's School Finance Act, which sets funding for individual districts. In a preliminary proposal, D-11 is projected to receive $113.45 more per pupil over this school year, taking the amount to $7,331.10 per student. That's less than the proposed statewide average of $7,424. per pupil.

School funding has been shortchanged by $831 million in recent years in order to balance the state budget. Last fall, the Colorado Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the state's school funding formula.

Gledich said in his letter that D-11 is not alone in facing another challenging budget year.

"Nearly every school district without a large mill levy override or bonds is encountering the same dilemma," he wrote.

The D-11 school board is considering taking a mill levy override and/or bond proposal to voters in November to help address its financial situation.

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