Fort Smith School Board welcomes new member, okays 5% or higher pay increases

by Aric Mitchell ( 466 views 

One week after bidding farewell to Dr. Deanie Mehl as Fort Smith school board president, fellow board members welcomed new member Greg Magness at Monday’s (Oct. 9) committee of the whole meeting.

Magness won Fort Smith At-Large Position 2 in an uncontested Sept. 19 election with 168 votes while Zone 3 incumbent Jeannie Cole was reelected with 53 votes, also uncontested. While Magness mostly observed Monday night, in a previous interview he told Talk Business & Politics “some things I would like to see looked at are safety in our schools – which they’re (board members) already broaching and dealing with – and we’ve got to realize we compete for students and families thinking about moving, so we have to be competitive with the school districts around us.”

Magness campaigned on the district’s teachers being paid competitively, adding that “our kids are competing on a national level, but I don’t know that our facilities always reflect that.”

In keeping with Fort Smith Schools Superintendent Dr. Doug Brubaker’s “Vision 2023″ strategic plan, he has also expressed interest in working with the Fort Smith business community and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) to ensure students are on an educational path that prepares them for the workforce.

While Magness will fill Mehl’s position, it is not clear who will replace her as board president, though Susan McFerran sat in on the role Monday night.

All seven members are eligible by law, but at the request of board member Talicia Richardson, the group decided to wait on the discussion and election of officers until after Magness can complete the orientation process next week.

Pursuant to Arkansas Code §6-13-618 (2016), the election of officers is to take place “At the first regular meeting following the later of the certification of the results of the annual school election or the certification of the results of a runoff election.” The board certified Monday night, so they will have to vote on board president, vice-president, and secretary at the Oct. 23 regular meeting. The secretary can be a board member, but it is not required.

Also Monday, the board approved a formal resolution acknowledging pay increases 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 currently 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 $1.210 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.

The next regular meeting of the Fort Smith School Board will be held Oct. 23.