By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Trustees for Park County School District No. 1 in Powell are considering raising teacher pay significantly, moving the district’s salaries from among the lowest in the state to among the highest.
“We have not raised our base since 2017,” said Jay Curtis, Superintendent of Park County School District No. 1. “When we raised it in 2017, it made us pretty competitive in the state. The raise to $51,000, if the board adopts that, which I hope they do, this next Tuesday, it will put us somewhere in the neighborhood of sixth or seventh in the state with regards to base pay.”
Currently, the district’s base pay is at $48,350, Curtis said, which has put the district between 22nd and 25th place for salaries in the state the last few years.
He told Cowboy State Daily that the proposed pay increase goes hand-in-hand with the culture in his school district, which is “Happy teachers create happy classrooms.”
“We are in the people business,” he said, “and the health of our organization, and the quality of our organization, really, can be measured by how well we take care of the people that we expect to take care of our children. Happy teachers create happy classrooms, and that’s where you want kids to go and to be able to learn at high levels.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder agreed, telling Cowboy State Daily that the teaching profession should be one of the best paid in society.
“Teaching is the hardest job on earth next to parenting,” he said. “It requires a very creative kind of person with highly-developed communication skills and organizational skills, not to mention an uncanny ability to work with young people. How well we pay our teachers may reflect how much we value our children.”
But the Powell school board isn’t stopping at teachers – Curtis said that the board is planning a considerable pay raise for district’s hourly staff as well.
“We’re actually increasing every hourly scale by $2.90 an hour to make our minimum in the district $15 an hour,” he said. “For, like, a para-educator, I think currently the scale is at $12.10. When we take a $2.90 increase, that’s about a 24% increase to those scales.”
Curtis explained that when it comes to creating a positive learning environment for the district’s students, the board can’t limit better compensation to just teachers.
“Happy bus drivers create happy buses, which means that’s the first first face that our kids see in the morning,” he said. “Happy food service workers create happy kitchens, which makes nutritious food for our kids. I mean, the list goes on and on. If we’re not taking care of our people, then we’re not taking care of our kids.”
Curtis said the increase comes at a time when inflation is hitting the community hard.
“We’re seeing unprecedented levels of inflation,” he said. “So every day that our staff works at the same rate of pay, they are essentially losing money when they’re trying to pay for groceries, trying to pay for gas, trying to pay their mortgages, you name it, medical, it’s becoming more and more difficult.”
“Teacher salaries have not risen over the past decade or more in Wyoming, commensurate with inflation,” Schroeder pointed out. “If we are to recruit and retain the best and the brightest, we must compensate them adequately, even generously.”
Increasing salaries across the board will not only help to maintain a positive culture in the school district, Curtis said, it also will go a long way towards recruiting quality staff to fill much-needed positions.
“Special Education is a high area of needs,” he said. “Special education teachers and (para-educators) have been very difficult to come by – in fact, we still have a few openings with regards to that. And there are other areas in the district that are getting more and more difficult to fill, areas like custodial. I think for the last four openings we’ve had, we’ve had five applicants total. So we’re trying to raise our base pay for all employees in hopes that we will recruit more people into those jobs – like bus driving, like custodial.”
Curtis noted money is currently in the budget to make these changes.
“We’ve been hearing over and over from our legislators that they’re going to cut our budgets,” he said. “Well, we’ve heard that ‘We’re going to cut you’ story for about 12 years now, and we have not seen those cuts come. And so at some point you have to just say, ‘Well, we’re just going to use the money that we have now to take care of our people in the most responsible manner that we can.’
“We need to be able to recruit and retain the best, which has always been something that Powell strives for – and you can’t recruit and retain the best when the power of the dollar that we’re paying is decreasing so dramatically,” he continued. “We just had to get more competitive.”
Curtis pointed out that by offering higher salaries, the district is able to increase the likelihood that students will succeed.
“We want to recruit and retain the highest quality teachers we can,” he said, “because we know that the single greatest metric in impacting a student’s education is the quality of the teacher you put in the classroom.”