Lewis-Palmer School District Proposes Property Tax Hike for Teacher Salaries | New

Stephanie Markle, a social studies teacher at Palmer Ridge High School, is straddling a barrier between a profession she loves and other better-paying jobs. And she doesn’t know where she’s going to land.

“I have such a passion for teaching,” Markle told The Gazette. “I love Palmer Ridge and I love our students. But I don’t know if I’ll stay.”

Markle and many of her colleagues in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 are currently struggling with an inverse relationship between academic performance and teacher compensation. The Monument-based district has historically been one of the top performers in the state, but its teacher salaries rank among the lowest in Colorado.

Since the Colorado Department of Education instituted its “Accreditation with Distinction” designation in 2009, Lewis-Palmer has been one of four districts in Colorado to earn this designation annually. State performance frameworks show D-38 ranked in the 94th percentile this year.

But the district’s starting salary for teachers, according to its pay scale, is about $38,000 a year, making it the lowest-paid district in the region.

Academy School D-20 and Cheyenne Mountain School D-12, which have also earned “Accreditation with Distinction” every year since 2009, boast starting teacher salaries of about $45,000 per year.

“Why would (teachers) stay here when they can go a few miles south or a few miles north and make an extra $7,000 a year, or more?” said Markle, an Air Force veteran. “I won’t name names because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but every teacher I’ve spoken to is considering their options.”

“We want to fix this problem,” D-38 Board of Education Director Ron Schwarz said of the pay disparity. “And we don’t want to put a bandage on the wound. We want to cure the disease.

The cure, officials say, is in the hands of district stakeholders.

Last month, the district school board voted unanimously to place a proposed tax increase, just for teacher and staff salaries, on the November ballot. If approved, it would put teachers’ salaries on par with other districts in the region and make it easier to attract and retain staff, officials said.

Superintendent KC Somers said staff turnover is nearly 30% and relatively low teacher salaries are a major reason for teachers leaving. Many of these educators are moving to higher paying districts in the Pikes Peak area.

“The surrounding districts are our peers, but they are also our competitors,” Somers said. “If our teachers are considering a district up north or south that offers thousands more a year to do the same work, of course some of them are going to at least think about leaving.”

District officials and staff members agree that over the years, Lewis-Palmer has developed a culture and atmosphere that encourages teachers to stay. But culture doesn’t pay the bills, and for many teachers, the vibe may not be enough to keep them in the neighborhood.

“It used to be that once we had teachers here, the culture and the atmosphere kept them here,” said Bridget O’Connor, principal of Lewis-Palmer High School. “Now our starting base (salary) is so low that we have difficulty recruiting new teachers, and many of the teachers we have are looking elsewhere.”

Teachers and community members have spoken out passionately in favor of a pay rise at council meetings, but the measure is not without opponents.

Dotted around the Monument community, among the myriad of campaign placards, are signs asking residents to vote “No” to the measure. A sign, which calls the measure a slush fund, reads: ‘Nobody likes sequels’.

Critics of the measure say it increases the tax burden on Monument owners, with no “sunset clause”, meaning the measure would remain in effect in perpetuity.

“(Opponents of the measure) are right,” D-38 spokesman Mark Belcher said. “Nobody likes to pay taxes, and this increase would only put us in the middle of the pack when it comes to teacher salaries. But we’re not looking to be the highest-paying district in the region. We just try to be competitive.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said O’Connor, whose father taught Lewis-Palmer High School for 30 years. “And this community can afford it.”

According to estimates from the El Paso County Assessor’s Office, the average Monument private property is valued at around $500,000. The proposed tax increase would be just under $52 per year per $100,000 of property value, for an average tax increase of about $260 per year.

While acknowledging that a tax hike isn’t the ideal solution, officials said it’s an affordable and fair solution for a district that has done more with less for years.

“We’ve done a tremendous job, and we haven’t asked stakeholders for money,” Schwarz said. “And we have been fiscally responsible.”

Schwarz cited the district’s partnership with Schneider Electric to develop an energy management program that will save nearly $10 million in future utility costs as evidence of its strong financial management. Additionally, by refinancing its existing bonds, the district will save taxpayers $1.9 million in the 2029-30 academic year, officials said.

“This measure is expressly and solely intended for the compensation of teachers and staff,” Schwarz said. “Neither for the directors, nor for the superintendent, nor for the administrators. Just teachers.

People entering the teaching profession are not looking to get rich. But for a staff that has consistently proven itself among the best in the statea competitive salary is the least the district and community can do, officials said.

“Our teachers deserve everything we can possibly give, and more,” Somers said. “And that includes a salary that supports the quality of life.”

If approved, the tax increase could make a difference for a teacher considering their options, Markle said.

“Incentives aren’t the reason most of us got into teaching, but they do matter,” she said. “I don’t want to leave Lewis-Palmer. I really like it here. But maybe I don’t have a choice. »

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