Recession Has Long-lasting Effect on Schools and Funding
MONTROSE – According to a new report, public school teachers in Colorado are paid well below the national average. In Montrose County, they are paid even less – yet another casualty of the worst recession in recent history that will be felt throughout the school system and the community in years to come.
The average pay for a U.S. public school teacher is $56,383; in Colorado, the average salary is $49,844, according to new data released by the National Center for Education Statistics.
In Montrose, a teachers’ average salary is around $45,000, according to District Superintendent Mark MacHale, who said the district salary is normally roughly $4,000 "below the state's average."
The 2013 data represent the estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools in America.
The highest-paid public school teachers are in New York, where the average salary is $75,279. The lowest are in South Dakota, where teachers earn an average salary of $39,580. In Arizona, teachers make an average of $49,885, compared to the $69,324 they earn in California.
Colorado ranks 30th in the nation in average pay. If the Montrose school district were on the NCES list, it would rank 47th – behind North Carolina public school teachers, who average $45,947.
The Montrose district has a total of 765 employees, 497 of whom are certified teachers and administrators, according to district reports.
Each month the district spends $2.5 million on salaries, not including benefits. The total percentage of general fund expenditures on employees is 86 percent according to the newly approved 2013-2014 district budget.
The last time teacher pay in Colorado was as much as the national average was in 1979-1980; that school year, teachers made, on average, $16,205 (the national average was $15,970).
Effects From the Recession
The nation’s recession, which began in 2007, triggered massive spending cuts in education in at least 34 states.
Today, Colorado has decreased its kindergarten through 12th grade per-pupil funding by over seven percent since 2008, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Montrose has lost more than $7 million in spending cuts, staff reductions and layoffs.
The recession drained millions of American’s retirement accounts. It also forced many district teachers here, who had previously been close to retirement, to hold on to their jobs.
"We don't have many people retiring," MacHale said. "During the recession, a lot of people stayed with us. Many were simply not comfortable retiring.”
This trend, MacHale reports, is one reason why the average salary figure is higher than the starting salary of a new teacher in Montrose ($32,000).
"We're not hiring as many new people," MacHale said.
Although the district has been able to raise wages with "cost of living" increases, it has not been able to increase starting salaries since the beginning of the recession. The same applies to base salaries. “We haven't had any additions to [those] in at least five years," MacHale said.
A Slight Comeback
Over the past 10 years, Colorado has cut nearly $1 billion from education funding. Earlier this fall, voters overwhelmingly rejected Amendment 66, which was designed to replenish those cuts.
On the other hand, what is promising for Colorado is a projected 1.7 percent average increase in per-pupil funding. Colorado has increased per-pupil funding by $68 in fiscal year 2014, a stark contrast to the $311 per-pupil cuts by the state between fiscal years 2008 and 2013.
According to the 2013-2014 district budget, total per-pupil funding within the Montrose district will increase by 1.9 percent next year, from $7,653 to $7,797.
Local school districts such as Montrose have trouble replacing lost state aid on their own. States typically distribute most education funding through formulas that allocate money according to need (such as the percentage of students on Free and Reduced Meal programs or FARM); Currently, 60 percent of Montrose school children receive FARM assistance.
Given the weak-but-improving real-estate market, the district will continue to face the challenge of using property tax funds to repair aging infrastructure without raising tax rates.
With the Montrose Recreation District looking to raise the city's sales tax next April to build a new Community Recreation Center, the district will continue to debate the best course of action to replace the physically worn-out Columbine Middle School.
Nationwide, local school districts collected 2.1 percent less in property tax revenue in the 12-month period ending in March 2013 than in the previous year.
New in 2014
The Montrose district is preparing to submit multiple applications for grant funds to fix and/or improve a number of building issues. Next month, the district will re-apply for a Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant to be earmarked for a possible roofing project, boiler replacement and other improvements.
Earlier this year, the district lost out on a possible BEST grant to replace Columbine Middle School; the replacement cost for the school was projected to be $13 million, and the BEST grant would have paid for half of that.
Next year, MacHale said, the district can allocate roughly $500,000 towards a possible $500,000 match from the BEST program (BEST has roughly $1 million in funds for district projects it approves).
As District Property Services Supervisor Jason Arebalos said, “money is limited,” and the district “will be reviewing our selection carefully."
To view the 2013-2014 Montrose district budget visit: www.mcsd.org.
By the Numbers
Teacher Pay From Neighboring States
New Mexico: $46,573
(Source: National Center for Education Statistics)
Colorado Teacher Pay History
(Source: National Center for Education Statistics)