The Board of Education and District 51 officials spent part of Tuesday’s school board meeting discussing staffing changes meant to account for a drop in enrollment.

About 116 school employees have retired or resigned, according to D51. The district expects 65 of those positions will be eliminated. In doing so, it hopes to increase teacher salaries, which are about 7-10% below competing districts.

Applications for the new positions will open in the coming weeks.

“We hope most of that is done this month,” Diana Sirko, District 51 Superintendent said. “Ambiguity is very hard in situations like these.”

Enrollment in District 51 was down about 900 students, according to a letter Sirko sent to district staff, and officials expect about half of that number to return.

As Rick Peterson, president of the Mesa Valley Education Association, said, those figures are based on parental surveys. And they can change on a dime, which creates more ambiguity.

This shifting is common in education but the scale of it isn’t, Peterson said. Part of that is because of the drop in enrollment, but also because of shifting in school boundaries.

Those changes may lead to teachers changing schools, grade levels or subjects. Some may become a school interventionist, a job that is buoyed by COVID-19 funding and could disappear once the money runs out.

Teachers who move will keep their current salary and benefits, assistant superintendent Brian Hill said.

But the uncertainty still has teachers worried.

“These people are trying to plan their lives. They’re looking five years down the road for when they can have kids,” Peterson said. “Now, they don’t know where they’ll be working in a few months.”

But officials say this could be a way to increase teacher salaries, a rallying cry for educators across the district.

Depending on experience, teachers will make between about $37,000 and about $47,000 a year, before additional compensation, according to the 2020-21 District 51 salary schedule.

“There’s going to be friction between those who are comfortable with low salaries and want to stay out and those fighting for better salaries,” Peterson said. “People look at us and wonder why they would come here if they’re not going to be paid enough to live the life they want to.”

The next school board meeting will be on April 20 at 6 p.m. at R-5 High School, 455 N. 22nd St. There will be opportunities for audience comment and the meeting will be live-streamed on Vimeo.