GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — Cherry Creeks Schools boosted their starting teacher salary this year, and district officials say it’s paying off.
The district hired nearly 460 new teachers this school year. That’s the most new teachers it has hired in the last 10 years.
Finding good, qualified teachers is a challenge for nearly every school district. Districts in Colorado not only have to compete with each other but with districts in other states.
That’s not easy amid a nationwide teacher shortage.
Like a lot of school districts in Colorado, Cherry Creek Schools struggled to attract new teachers.
“We were probably one of the lowest starting teacher salaries in the metro area,” said Brenda Smith, the chief human resources officer for Cherry Creek Schools.
Smith and other district leaders believed low starting pay for new teachers was a big reason why.
“We were around $44,000 while other surrounding school districts were above that,” Smith said. “And we knew that it was becoming harder and harder to recruit brand new teachers into the profession in order for them to be able to actually afford and live within the Cherry Creek boundaries.”
Working with the teacher’s union, Smith said district leaders were able to increase starting salaries for new teachers to about $58,000.
New teachers in the district are now among the highest-paid in the area. Smith said the higher pay has helped them fill positions a lot more quickly this year.”
“This year, we were able to fill almost all of our positions before school started,” said Smith. “We actually are at 98% fill rate for most of our jobs, specifically in our special service professionals. Last year for our SLPs, our speech language pathologists, we were down 25 at the beginning of the year, and we had to contract out most of those services. This year, we have actually been able to fill all of those positions. Same thing with our psychs and social workers, and many of our special education positions have also been filled, so it’s been a huge success for us.”
Smith said it’s not uncommon for districts to not fill some positions until after school starts. Very often students start the school year with substitutes teaching some of the classes. Some positions aren’t filled at all.
The Colorado Education Association’s annual State of Education report found that 9% of teaching positions in Colorado went unfilled last school year.
According to the report, the number of unfilled teaching positions increased by 64% from the previous year.
State lawmakers tried easing the burden by passing the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, making it easier and faster for teachers from out of state to get their teaching licenses in Colorado.
The law took effect earlier this month.
Smith says more needs to be done, especially since Colorado ranks in the bottom half of states for teacher pay, according to the National Education Association.
“I think you have [fewer] individuals coming out of our colleges that are graduating as teachers. And it’s almost impossible to live in the state of Colorado when you are below $50,000,” Smith said. “Even at $58,000, I mean, we are excited about that, but still that’s a challenge for people to be able to have an affordable living wage and be able to live inside of the metro area.”
Smith said all of the district’s 4,000 teachers received a pay increase this year.
She said teachers and support staff also have an opportunity to earn more money by furthering their education.
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