The Fort Smith Board of Education voted Monday (April 8) to approve the largest teachers’ raise in the past five years. The action will raise the base salary for starting first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree by $450 to $38,500.
The recommendation approved by the board at a specially-called meeting also replaces the classified salary schedule proportionally.
“It was a priority to me to get pay salaries for not just teachers but for the classified personnel too. We left it out of the Vision 2023 (which resulted in a millage increase) because we didn’t think tax payers should have to finance salaries. Now the district is responding in a very positive way,” said Talicia Richardson, board member.
Fort Smith voters approved a 5.558 millage increase for Fort Smith public schools in 2018. The new rate is expected to raise $120.822 million, $35 million of which will go toward district-wide safety improvements. Other noteworthy items to be funded with the millage is a new $13.724 million Career and Technology Center featuring specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing and additions and improvements to both Northside and Southside high schools which will include new freshman academies and new gyms at both.
Dr. Doug Brubaker, FSPS superintendent, said the decision to see if salary increases were viable came about after sending out a survey to staff, conversations with the newly formed certified staff personnel policy committee that negotiates on behalf of teachers, and conversations with department heads.
“We wanted to see if raises were a high priority,” Brubaker said. “We wanted to reach out and engage with all our employees. The surveys showed a lot of support (for raises).”
Chief Financial Officer Charles Warren said many times during the presentation on the raises that the money to finance them would not come from the millage increase.
“With that increase and recommended salary schedule changes, I want to say again, we are not using any additional revenues generated by the millage increase,” Warren said.
The revenues for the increase are generated by what Warren called Four Factors of Funding. This money is raised by the 36.5 mills that was being collected prior to the millage increase, a 1.5% increase in property assessments, state funding foundation and student count. Other funding will come from savings generated by experienced teachers retiring and beginning teachers starting at the lower tier of the pay schedule, Warren said.
Though the board was unanimously in favor of the raises, not everyone in the district was happy with the way the recommendation was conceived.
“Tonight, administration proposed a $450 increase to the base salary along with some restructuring of the salary schedules for both certified and classified,” Lorrie Woodward said in a Facebook post. “While this sounds like an excellent deal, FSEA would like to point out a few things for you to think about:
1. None of this was presented to, discussed by, nor voted on by our PPC.
2. The PPC is not set to meet again until May, after which the FSPS board will have voted on it.
3. $450= @ $40-60 a month.
4. Teachers will have had no input in this decision making process, which was the main reason the school board voted to rescind negotiation rights, in favor of ‘more equal representation.’
If this can happen with salary, it can happen with policy. Sick days. Funeral leave. Personal days. Planning time. Class size. Anything. Everything. If administration and our school board are willing to bypass the PPC committee that they agreed to work with, then where do we as educators now stand?”
Woodward is a teacher at Cavanaugh Elementary School and president of the Fort Smith Education Association. Prior to the formation of the PPC, FSEA negotiated on behalf of FSPS teachers. The BOE voted Nov. 26 to change the way the district negotiates with teachers regarding personnel policy and salaries.