In Arapahoe County and Douglas County we are watching a tale of two school districts unfold. That tale is all about how teachers are compensated and what it will all mean as the scenarios play out.
On one side, in Douglas County, you have a situation where voters said no to a mill levy that would have resulted in teachers getting pay raises. In November, voters pretty soundly rejected the measure.
Whether it was because they were still feeling a little saucy over how the school board handled the termination of the former superintendent, or, just didn’t want more money to go to the government, even if it is a school district, doesn’t matter. What matters is it did not happen and the district, which is located in the ninth richest county in the nation, is paying a teacher a starting salary of just over $43,000.
I have to give credit to Superintendent Erin Kane and the school board — they didn’t let the election rejection halt discussions. They are trying to be creative in what to do next. The most recent discussion centers around having affordable housing built just for teachers. That means low-income apartments.
However, the problem here is besides paying teachers like crap, the current messaging throughout Douglas County seems to also be against building affordable housing.
Without affordable housing, good teachers, good cops and the much-needed working class is going to disappear.
That leads us to neighboring Arapahoe County. Arapahoe County is home to another large school district, Cherry Creek. Cherry Creek seems to be a lot more focused on keeping good teachers and recruiting new ones.
It’s no secret there is a teacher shortage not just in Colorado but nationwide. There are not enough substitutes, certified teachers and paraprofessionals at any level. That means districts who treat teachers better are going to at least fare better as the battle to meet staffing levels drags on.
Recently, Cherry Creek opted to pay teachers a starting salary of $57,000. Let’s put that in perspective. If you are a teacher currently working in Douglas County but can’t afford to live there — you are likely to drive from a metro city to the north. If you were a teacher in Douglas County driving past Cherry Creek to teach for $14,000 a year less — would you stay? Would you want to keep going to a district where the residents outright said no to you having a better life?
The effect of what is happening is going to become clear in years down the road. Douglas County might go from being the ninth richest with one of the best school districts in the nation to much worse.
Think about the good families currently raising their kids in Douglas County. Parents are going to start looking at whether or not their children are receiving a quality education. If they realize the neighboring district not only pays teachers more but provides students a better education because their good teachers went there — they too are going to leave.
Who can blame them? As parents, we want our kids to have the best education possible. I moved from another state for that very reason, to make sure my adopted daughter got the education she deserves. Other parents will do the same even if it means moving one district over.
In Cherry Creek, teachers are going to feel more appreciated. They are going to feel as though residents believe in them and they are going to work for those students even as times are tough.
In Douglas County, teachers are receiving a clear message that while the school board and superintendent are doing their best with the resources they have — their best may not be good enough to stay.
Thelma Grimes is the south metro editor for Colorado Community Media.