Increasing teacher salaries would be a priority for school districts across Southwest Colorado if the Colorado General Assembly comes through with funding for full-day kindergarten during this session.
Currently, the state provides a little more than half the money for full-day kindergarten, and regional school districts pay for the other half out of their general funds, which principally come from revenue from local property taxes.
In Durango School District 9-R, about $1.2 million from its general fund is devoted to paying for 15 full-day kindergarten classrooms at its eight elementary schools. The district has a total of 411 kindergarteners this year.
Durango School District spokeswoman Julie Popp said the $1.2 million freed from the general fund would cover most of the $1.5 million anticipated in increased salary costs that mainly will come from teachers moving up the district’s salary schedule for the 2019-20 academic year.
Montezuma-Cortez School District Superintendent Lori Haukeness said full state funding for kindergarten would free $287,514 from the district’s general fund, and, like Durango 9-R, Montezuma-Cortez would focus on teacher salaries.
“Our first priority is to ensure every student has a quality teacher in the classroom,” she said. “Our first priority would be to recruit and retain quality teachers.”
Bayfield School District Superintendent Kevin Aten said full-day kindergarten funding would free about $370,000 from its general fund.
“We would use that money on salaries,” he said. “We want more competitive salaries across the board.”
Kathy Pokorney, curriculum and assessment director with the Ignacio School District, said Ignacio has been providing full-day kindergarten for at least two decades and currently has three kindergarten classes with about 60 kindergarteners per year.
Ignacio’s district subsidizes full-day kindergarten with $60,000 from its general fund, said Finance Director Lucinda Lounge.
Pokorney said the Ignacio school board and the district’s superintendent likely would look first at teacher salaries, but they also could discuss adding funding for science, technology, engineering and math programs and consider spending more on vocational education.
The state might lower other education funding, and if that were to occur, the $60,000 could be used simply to maintain current spending levels in other parts of the budget, she said.
Mancos School District Superintendent Brian Hanson said, “Across the state and even nationally, it has become more difficult to attract people into teaching. Fewer people are entering the profession and that creates challenges.”
He said paying teachers more also would be his priority with the estimated $50,000 that would be freed from Mancos’ general fund.
“We could begin by improving base salaries and that would help the whole salary structure,” he said.