KATHY West, a teacher at Ortega Middle School, was reflecting on the recently adopted agreement between the Alamosa Education Association and Alamosa School District that netted all teachers an eight percent pay raise and the immediate help the new salary structure will bring to her colleagues.
The agreement, adopted in May by the Alamosa School Board, is all about bringing more equity and security to teachers pay through a cost-of-living adjustment that elevated the beginning teacher salary in Alamosa to $40,256, highest beginning teacher salary now of the school districts in the San Luis Valley. The new wage scale also brought an estimated 90 other teachers to over $50,000 and closer to the $53,000 salary the district and teachers union agree should be the baseline salary for teachers in Alamosa to afford the cost of living.
“One of our new teachers, I think he’s in his third year, he just said ‘My rent is going up.’ He said, ‘This (agreement) is going to make a huge difference.’ That’s what we’re shooting for,” said West, who along with Myra Manzanares is co-president of the teachers union.
Manzanares, a longtime educator who teaches at Alamosa Elementary, told a similar story of two teachers looking to put a contract on a house and feeling more secure doing so with the new wage agreement in place at Alamosa Schools.
“Knowing that that’s coming will relieve stress,” said Alamosa School Superintendent Diana Jones. Jones, who just completed her first year as superintendent and in April received a new contract from the school board, along with Assistant Superintendent Luis Murillo, have Alamosa teachers feeling more support and appreciation.
Jones and Murillo negotiated the healthy cost-of-living adjustment that teachers were seeking and sold it to the local school board, and now have teachers set up to begin discussions around a four-day school week, another sought-after goal of the Alamosa Education Association.
Improvements to teacher pay as well as an examination of a four-day school week are both efforts to put Alamosa Schools in a better position to retain teachers and to attract new ones, Jones said.
She and Murillo also have the school district moving ahead under a new strategic action plan, which underscores that the basic needs of students must be met first. The district must provide a safe, supportive and collaborative structure for students and staff if Alamosa schools are going to do their best work.
“I think now the vision is clear,” said Murillo shortly after a committee of 26, including a number of students, worked out the strategic action plan framework and Alamosa’s “profile of a graduate” concept.
“We want our kids to be resilient,” he said. “We want our kids to be locally and globally connected, we want them to be future ready, we want them to be confident.”
For Jones and Murillo, meeting the basic needs of students and ensuring Alamosa students are prepared to succeed in today’s ever-changing world begins with teachers and the non-teaching staff who feel their own needs are being met and supported. Which is why the pay increase for teachers and staff was key to initiating the trust of the frontline employees.
The 8 percent cost-of-living adjustment was a target the teachers association had and they found negotiating partners who listened. Manzanares called it professionalism at the bargaining table.
“One thing that is important when you’re trying to establish a relationship with your admin and with the union is that there’s this professionalism back and forth, and I really felt that from admin,” she said of the negotiating sessions.
“I felt like when we did come in and we did have things that we brought to the table that we could really collaborate well because we had established a relationship around it,” said Manzanares. “Most of what was being said at the end is that everybody at the table felt like they were listened to. To me that’s important.”
With her first year under her belt, an established working relationship with the teachers association forged, and a trusty right hand in Murillo, Jones is looking ahead. Last week she moved the administration staff to new offices on the east side of Alamosa and vacated the school district’s longtime home on Victoria Street next to Ortega Middle School to make way for Alamosa Online School and Alternative Education.
“We want everyone to feel good about coming into the schools and working together, with the ultimate goal of student achievement and student success,” she said from the district’s new offices.
“People have expressed just knowing that the 8 percent was accomplished, knowing that they can look forward to that raise in September, it has relieved some stress for them and mentally given them a little more hope that they could continue doing what they love, which is teaching students and not being as stressed to make sure they could afford everything.”
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