May is an incredible, if at times hectic month. We as a district have much to celebrate, including the graduating classes at both Lewis-Palmer High School and Palmer Ridge High School. Please help us congratulate these hardworking graduates wherever possible. They have been exemplary students and will undoubtedly go on to do great things.
We also celebrate student progress as classes prepare to move to new grade levels in the next school year. As we celebrate and reflect on what is ahead, we do so amid a hiring challenge, one which I can confidently call a hiring crisis for our district.
While we do not have an unprecedented amount of job openings, we have experienced an unprecedented number of candidates declining job offers, along with a decreased number of applicants. In our conversations with these applicants, D38’s lower compensation is a consistent theme.
Given this new reality, in which our neighboring districts have increased salaries at a pace that D38 has been unable to match due lower funding, we have had to make some calculated adjustments for the short term while we plan for the long term.
In the coming year, we have instituted a change to how hard-to-fill positions are classified and a new bonus structure that rewards new staff accepting those positions. We’ve also introduced a slightly smaller bonus for all other new hires. This may help on a short-term basis, but it will not solve all our challenges in the long-term.
Unless we make broad changes to our pay structure, D38 will have significant challenges moving into the future in retaining our excellent current employees, as well as recruiting new employees, who we need to help continue our traditions of academic excellence. Unfortunately, our teachers are tired, and they are not paid at the same level as their colleagues across the region, state or nation.
We will take steps to address that within our own means where possible, including by petitioning the state to increase our funding, as we do every year. However, we will need the help of our community. In a recent survey, we asked many questions about D38, but homed in on a potential tax increase to help D38 remain competitive in the realm of educator pay. Full results will be published, but to summarize the results of the survey, our community is generally supportive of that message.
Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to take deliberate steps to design the ideal state for D38 moving forward, and that collaborative design will paint the picture of a school district our community can be proud of for years to come. Our Board of Education on Tuesday, May 3, discussed a potential ballot initiative that would allow us to take steps towards that future state, and we will continue to engage our community as we consider this as an option.
I encourage you to connect with our district, explore our available resources, including our new budget transparency tool Balancing Act, found at lewispalmer.org. I also encourage you to thank a teacher for what they do. Together, we can keep D38 a district of distinction in which teachers want to work and our students grow into the future leaders of our region, state and nation.
Dr. KC Somers
Lewis-Palmer School District 38
This article was originally published in the Gazette Tribune as part of a running series in partnership with Lewis-Palmer School District 38. Tap here to see the article.