GRAND JUNCTION, Colo (KREX) — “We want the best people we can get in our school systems and one way to do that is to offer high enough beginning salaries for teachers that they can afford to live in our area,” says Tim Couch with the Mesa Valley Education Association.

The Colorado Department of Education shows the average salary for Colorado teachers hovers around  $58,000. Mesa County is less, just over $50,000, and behind other state school districts.

Couch also says, “‘we’re up against other districts in the state that, quite honestly have larger pay scales, so that’s what we’re up against and we’d all like to have higher retention and better recruiting for teachers, so this is just one of the steps.”

That step? A ratified agreement between School District 51 and the Mesa Valley Education Association. Couch added, “a 9.1% increase for covered employees, so teachers, counselors, and psychologists.”

6% of that is a cost of living increase, then the school district adds 1% and an $800 flat fee to help raise the lowest paid teachers and, give them a quick boost up the pay scale. It brings first-year teacher salaries to a little more than $43,000, up from $41,000 last year. The goal is to get starting wages closer to $50,000, still $15,000 less than the national average.

Couch also says, “it’s been ongoing, so what we hope to do is to continue to increase educator pay until we get to a point we can retain high-quality teachers in the valley.”

Couch says better pay is important to help employees feel valued and feed their families, “we need to have enough take-home pay to be able to buy houses and buy cars and go to local events and buy from local vendors and it’s just good for our community overall.” District 51 teachers will see that added pay increase when they head back to school this fall.