Fort Smith School Board votes Susan McFerran as new Board president, affirms 5% merit increases

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 902 views 

Fort Smith School Board member Susan McFerran was voted unanimously to the post of school board president on Monday (Oct. 23) four weeks after her predecessor, Dr. Deanie Mehl, bid farewell to the position and the board. In two additional unanimous votes, board members picked Bill Hanesworth as vice-president and Yvonne Keaton-Martin as board secretary.

McFerran was appointed to the school board in 2012 and won her first election unopposed the following year. However, she shouldered controversy by making what would ultimately be a successful motion to change the name of Southside High School from Rebels while dropping the “Dixie” fight song. The Board voted 7-0 on July 27, 2015, to change the mascot and end use of the “Dixie” fight song associated with the school since it opened in 1963. The Board voted to discontinue use of “Dixie” as the Southside High School fight song in the 2015-2016 school year and to drop the Rebel as the Southside mascot in the 2016-2017 school year.

McFerran took on challengers Marc Werschem and Brian Means in September 2016 as a result of her leadership on the vote. She won with 55% support to Means’ 28% and Werschem’s 17%.

Dr. Mehl bid farewell to the position at a Sept. 25 meeting after serving for 12 years as a board member. Mehl’s replacement, Greg Magness of Hardin, Jesson, & Terry, PLC, sat for his first regular meeting Monday night after being elected unopposed in September.

Also Monday night, the Board voted unanimously to approve a resolution affirming teacher merit increases as required by state law. The approval was pushed forward from a committee of the whole meeting on Oct. 9. The resolution is for certified and classified personnel pursuant to Act 1120 of 2013 (A.C.A. 6-13-635). The increases — and resolution — do not pertain to all district employees, only the ones who saw their percentage of salary go up by 5% or more from the previous school year.

The law requires the board to pass a formal resolution whenever such large increases are made, but FSPS Executive Director of Human Resources Martin Mahan noted that most of the increases were because “many of the affected employees were in part-time positions and moved to full time,” while others “assumed extra duties which carry a stipend.”

“Some simply advanced on the salary schedule based on education and experience while others got new jobs within the district with greater responsibility and higher pay. Departing employees receive severance pay as provided by policy which sometimes puts them into the 5% category. The wording of the law raises some questions as to who should be included on this list, but we have always taken the approach that we will list everyone whose compensation increased by 5% or more regardless of the circumstance.”

The majority of the “Act 1120” pay increases were for active teachers, a total of $8.835 million, or 9.32% of the total 2016-2017 salaries. Administrative salaries under the Act’s purview totaled $1.21 million or roughly 1.28% of the district total, and retirements accounted for $2.068 million or 2.18%. On the classified personnel side, the total was $4.428 million or 4.67% of total salaries. In all, the district’s payroll is $94.766 million with $16.543 million (certified and classified) being paid to staff at the 5% or higher rate from the previous year.