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Pueblo teachers earn more than their neighbors, but less than their peers

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PUEBLO -

As teachers in Pueblo City School take to the streets to strike over a collapsed negotiation with the District 60 Board of Education over cost-of-living raises, News 5 thought you'd want to know how their salaries compare to both their neighbors in the Steel City and their peers around Colorado.

We found that Pueblo teachers earn a better living than many other workers in Pueblo, but they also earn less than other teachers around the state.

The US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a data set online known as Occupational Employment Statistics. The most recent data available are from May of 2017. The Bureau calculates what is known as the mean annual wage for employees across various jobs and sectors. 

Searching the data for employees in Pueblo who work in the major category of Education, Training and Library Occupations, we found a mean annual wage of $50,030 per year.  That's slightly more money than plumbers, nurses (LPN) and firefighters earn in Pueblo. However, it's also less money than letter carriers make as this table illustrates.

Letter Carriers   $50,730
Teachers    $50,030
Plumbers  $49,540
Nurses (LPN) $47,860
Jail / Prison Guards  $47,600
Firefighters $47,360
All Jobs  $44,030
Fitness Trainers  $43,910

We also searched BLS data to compare teacher pay in Pueblo to other cities in Colorado and found wages that are below the state average, but higher than teachers in Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.

Boulder $62,020
Denver $57,240
Fort Collins $54,290
State Average $53,830
Greeley $50,630 
Pueblo $50,030
Colorado Springs $47,440
Grand Junction  $44,260

We double checked our data to the current District 60 Salary Schedule as well as to the district's own internal breakdown of the distribution of teachers across salary ranges and found consistency.

$35,277 - $40,000 (242 teachers)
$40,000 - $50,000 (374 teachers)
$50,000 – $60,000 (230 teachers)
$60,000 - $70,000 (151 teachers)
$70,000 and above (22 teachers)

The Colorado Department of Education's 2017-2018 list of the average teacher salary lists different figures than the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state data shows that Pueblo D60 teachers make an average of $47,617. 

SEE THE FULL COLORADO DEPT OF EDUCATION LIST HERE - PDF

Suzanne Ethredge, president of the Pueblo Education Association, told us that she "most definitely feels" that teachers earn their pay. The strike was called for after the school board voted down an across the board cost of living raise of 2 percent that was recommended by a third party fact finder.

Other than cost of living adjustments, there are only two of ways for teachers in D-60 to earn more money: longevity and higher degrees. Pueblo teachers earn automatic pay raises based on the number of years on the job. These raises are called "steps" and a teacher with a Bachelors Degree can see their pay increase from a starting salary of $35,277 to $44,018 in a period of 8 years. The steps then freeze until that same teacher has reached their 25th year with the district.

However, the salary schedule offers incentives for teachers to earn more if they learn more. Consider the salaries of two hypothetical teachers who have each been with the district for 10 years. One has an additional 30 college credit hours, while the other has just a Bachelors degree. The teacher who went back to college will automatically earn $48,973 as compared to the $44,018.

"Although, with the cost of classes and continuing education these days, it really is barely compensation for tuition," Ethredge said.

Salaries are only part of a teacher's total compensation package. Retired teachers in Colorado all receive pensions through the Public Employees Retirement Assistance Program or PERA for short.

"When a teacher retires, they may receive 75 percent of their salary from the average of the last three years," explained Pam Benigno, Education Policy Director at the free market think tank the Independence Institute.

PERA is a defined benefit, meaning retirement income is based on a teacher's earnings during their career rather than the amount of money they invested. Contributions to PERA equal 28 percent of a teacher's wage, with the teacher contributing 8 percent and taxpayers contributing the other 20.

District 60 also offers a 401k plan but does not make matching contributions. Ethredge explained that teachers virtually can't collect social security benefits when they retire.

"Teachers in Colorado are eligible for next to nothing in the way of Social Security benefits, even if they've had another job and come into teaching, they will not be able to draw their social security from that previous job," Ethredge said.

Pueblo teachers also work for a minimum of 183 days per calendar year according to their most recent contract. Most full-time employees in the private sector work closer 250-260 days a year depending on vacation benefits and how many government holidays are allowed.

Ethredge said that most of the teachers in Pueblo use that summer break to study toward their continuing education credits or to help prepare themselves for the next school year.

Download the KOAA News 5 App iOS/iPhone here and for Android here.

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