Fort Smith School Board to get a revised look at teacher pay raise plan

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 508 views 

Fort Smith Public Schools administration has a new plan to increase teacher salaries it hopes will satisfy board members and employees when presented May 9. The plan will add one more step to the district’s salary schedules and give all teachers a pay increase.

District administration presented a proposal to the school board April 18 that would have raised salaries for certified staff on average 5.53%. The proposal presented would have added $5,500 to the base certified salary schedule (CSS) and level the current “step” increases from step two to step 21. It would have raised the certified base salary from $38,500 to $44,000 for the 2022-23 school year. At $38,500, the FSPS base salary is only 7% higher than the Arkansas state minimum for teacher pay, said Charles Warren, FSPS chief financial officer.

While the proposal would have done much to make beginning Fort Smith teacher salaries competitive with those in other schools in the Fort Smith region and closer to what is offered in Northwest Arkansas, many teachers said was unfair to veteran teachers, and the school board asked administration to come up with a better solution.

The school board was pleased that every teacher would receive a pay increase and with the significant impact to the base salary, Warren said in a video message to teachers that was included with an email outlining “revisions to proposed certified salary restructure.” However, they had concerns, Warren added.

“Basically it summarized, the school board saying to the district administration and to me, ‘Do better. Let’s try to find some way of adding steps instead of waiting for future revenue and for many years to come. Let’s focus on what we can do now. Roll up your sleeves. Let’s start aggressively looking at all available funds,’” Warren said. “With those marching orders, we went back, not to the drawing board, but back through all our calculations.”

Warren told Talk Business & Politics April 20, the district would be aggressive in its calculations for revenues but not risky. In his message to staff, Warren said after taking those aggressive looks, administration was able to confirm that FSPS’ third-quarter average Average Daily Membership (ADM) has increased by 68 students.

“If we use this now confirmed number and add to our calculations, we believe we now have new state revenue growth that we can share with the school board of $500,000,” Warren said. “It will require us to be aggressive. As was mentioned by school board members, this growth in students may not be sustainable. We’re going to have real competition in the future, but for next year, we can now confirm calculations for foundation funding for FY23 will have an additional $500,000 of revenue growth, at least for the next year.”

With that extra funding, the district proposes to add a Step 22 to the certified salary schedule. That step will be the same $675 increase that was seen in all the steps 1-21 in the earlier restructuring proposal. By doing that, the cost of fiscal year 23 goes up almost $400,000, Warren said.

“So we saw there was still available money, so the second priority, listening to the school board, was to add an equitable step 22 to all the applicable classified salary schedules. When we looked at all the ones that (we were not) able to address in our original proposal, we saw that the cost of that is $90,000,” Warren said in his message. “That leaves us with $30,000.”

That $30,000 is not enough to be able to create a step 23 at the same equitable increase, he said, noting that even if the district did not add a step 22 to the classified section of the salary schedules, funding would still be 33% to 25% less than what was needed to add a 23 step to the certified salary schedule. The new info did not include an overall percentage average salary increase.

The revised salary schedule proposal will first go to the district’s personnel policy committee for review, comments and a vote. It is scheduled to be presented to the school board May 9, according to Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communications and community partnerships for FSPS.

The average pay raise for teachers in the proposal in percentage terms is still well below recent raises provided to District Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski. When Morawski’s superintendent contract was recently extended, his salary was set at 14.47% higher than his salary approved Dec. 30, 2020. Certified staff pay has on average increased 1.11% during that same time.

Morwaski has received two raises since his hire date, 5.6% with the start of this 2021-22 contract and 8.4% with his 2022-23 contract. In his contract, there was a stipulation that if he passed his performance review, his raise would be equal to Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for the South as calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor for the 12-month period. This was the same stipulation that was in the contract for Morawski’s predecessor, Dr. Brubaker.

At the time of his last contract approval in March, Morawski asked that the raise rate available to him in the future be limited at 3%.