On a good day, it takes fourth-grade teacher Montserrat Granados about 35 minutes to commute between her home in Ault to Irish Elementary School in Fort Collins. On a bad one, she's stuck in her car for 50 minutes.
"I wish it was something I didn't have to deal with," Granados said. "But I love Poudre School District."
When Granados was hired by the district a couple years ago, she didn't make enough money to purchase property in Fort Collins or nearby Laporte or Wellington. She ended buying a home in Ault, about 20 miles east, instead.
Granados' situation isn't unique: the starting salary for Poudre School District teachers is the lowest in the region. But that could change next year.
The Poudre School District Board of Education voted unanimously to refer a mill levy override measure to the ballot this November. If the measure passes, the district will receive $18 million annually starting in the 2019-2020 budget year. Property owners will pay less than $3 a month for every $100,000 in assessed home value. On a $400,000 home, that's an increase of about $137 a year.
The revenue is earmarked to increase first-year teacher salaries and restructure teacher salaries to maintain competitive wages for them, as well as support staff including bus drivers, paraprofessionals and custodians. District-authorized charter schools will also receive funding.
Vicki Thompson, executive director of human resources, said the mill levy override is a strategic plan to recruit and retain teachers.
"(At) recruiting fairs, salary is definitely top of mind for them (teachers) because they not only have to find housing in most cases but also pay for student loans and other living expenses," Thompson said. "It's becoming more and more difficult for them to be able to pay for those."
The money would also allow the district to hire more mental health professionals and enhance safety and security in schools. While $2 million of the tax revenue has been allocated to these two issues, Dave Montoya, executive director of finance, said there is not a set number of personnel that will be hired or a definitive security implementation plan.
"This has been a priority (of) ours for a long time," Dave Montoya said. "(The amount allocated) would be a balance between how much we've been able to interject in the system and how much we can hire realistically."
The tax revenue will not be used for administration salaries or capital improvements.
Every year, Poudre School District collaborates with administrators, three employee groups and employees to negotiate staffing and contracts. In 2020, all employees will receive a 2.05% cost-of-living, or COLA, increase. There is also a 2.46% pay bump for licensed staff based on additional education and years of experience and equivalent raises for classified, professional and administrative staff.
The 2019 measure will directly increase teacher and staff pay, unlike the mill levy overrides and bonds voters passed in 2010 and 2016.
Tom List taught social studies at Rocky Mountain High School for more than three decades and is president of Poudre Education Association, the teachers' union. List is confident voters will approve the mill levy override because, he said, they understand education.
"We have a high value for education in our community and we've got a community that understand teachers' salaries," List said. "They definitely understand the mental health needs and school safety concerns and they love their teachers and so that's why we think we will be successful in this campaign in November."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct when Poudre School District would receive $18 million annually.