Caring for Our Staff; Replication Update

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One of our five strategic plan pillars is staff care and this past summer, we spent a great deal of time diving into the data that our staff provided us with, as well as national data on what teachers needed and wanted in support. While we still have more work to do, we have made great strides this year in improving staff culture and morale. We understand that this is going to be a process and that each year we will continue to improve.

One of the behind-the-scenes components of our Staff Care Plan is always looking at how to better optimize wages and benefits. We know STEM’s benefits outperform DCSD’s in comparison and our benefits provider has compared our benefits nationally to let us know we are in the top 10%. Benefits are a powerful way to provide the most for all.

In a year of hyperinflation, we were anticipating the Governor would increase spending for public schools. Although an 11% increase was announced, through a complicated Colorado school finance formula, DCSD is anticipating a 5% increase that is woefully inadequate.

STEM reviewed all salaries with the newly published 2022-23 DCSD certified salary schedule. Most of our faculty fell within the correct range with the 5% salary increase. A few were below and had larger increases up to 15%. A few were above and had their salary frozen for next year following the announced procedure by DCSD. Doing the most for the entire staff is the goal.

In addition, all Colorado public schools must participate in PERA, the state retirement system. STEM employees do not contribute toward social security and instead have a state-sponsored defined benefit program. The school contributes approximately 21% of the salary toward PERA and the employee over 10%. About 32% of each paycheck is claimed by PERA.

Another critical benchmark is that total salaries and benefits should fall within 50-70% of per-pupil revenue (PPR). Falling below 50% most likely means the charter is not spending enough on salaries and benefits. Going above is not sustainable and will eventually bankrupt any school. STEM is close to 70% and so we must do the very painful process of pruning costs.

Anchoring on our mission, vision and why we exist, all costs are measured against student success. At STEM, we define success through PBL K-12. Our faculty have identified PBL support as one of their greatest needs. STEM has a powerful Teacher Support Team for this purpose. Each member of the teacher support team was a STEM teacher last year. They understand the struggle and work shoulder to shoulder in the classroom elevating the student experience through teacher support.

In a perfect world, STEM would have an abundance of resources to fill all of the wish lists. Our resources will be reduced next year with inflation, 5% raises, and inadequate funding. Hard decisions about what to trim to sustain the critical components such as staff salaries and the teacher support team will be unpopular and questioned.

Replication Update

We are so excited to share that we are continuing to move along in the process of our application review with both DPS and DCSD. This week we complete the Applicant Interview process for both school districts, where we answered questions from the DCSD CART Team and the DPS DAC Team. Both teams presented very thorough questions to our application that allowed us to elaborate and really showcase what makes STEM so special.

Next up is our presentation to the DCSD Board of Directors on Tuesday, April 27 at 5 p.m. This is the opportunity for our STEM Community to speak in support of our efforts to the Board and share what makes STEM so special to our students and our families. First-hand testimonials of how our KOSON Instructional Model of Problem-Based Learning has helped students succeed will show the Board and the DCSD Community that expanding our community will open those same experiences to even more students.

If you’d like to sign-up for Public Comment, please click the button below. Sign-up is open now and will close at 12 p.m. on Tuesday. You can do Public Comment either in person or via Zoom.

You can also help us spread the word through social media. We have so many great stories to tell, that sharing what our students are doing on your social media, or in other community groups, will help Share Our Great News! Two of my favorites that capture some of the magic at STEM are from Elementary School and from a 2021 STEM senior.

We know that our community might have questions about our replication efforts so if you’d like to attend one of our Information Sessions, please join us. While these are intended to answer questions from the respective communities, we are happy to answer those of our Highlands Ranch Community as well.

Happy Earth Day,

P.J. Eucker PhD

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