Fort Smith teacher pay proposal shows average increase of 5.53%

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,056 views 

Fort Smith Public Schools administration will propose salary increases that will raise salaries on average of 5.53% for certified staff. The proposal is expected to be considered April 18 at the Fort Smith Public School Board meeting.

The proposal to go before the board Monday could add $5,500 to the base certified salary schedule (CSS) and level the current “step” increases from step two to step 21, states a school finance update recently was sent to staff. If the proposal is approved, the increase will raise the certified base salary from $38,500 to $44,000 for the 2022-23 school year. Along with raising the base salary, the new step schedule would look at the possibility of adding step increases beyond 21 years, the update said.

“The proposed certified salary schedule is not merely an attempt to add to the certified base salary as in the past. Instead, we are presenting a restructured certified salary schedule that should prove to be an incredible investment for future growth,” said Charles Warren, FSPS chief financial officer.

The proposed salary schedule increases starting salaries and replaces percentage increases with a fixed amount of a $675 per year step, according to the proposed step salary.

“The current step structure includes a wide range of dollar increases that typically favor those who are higher in the step structure. For example, Steps 19 and 20 do not currently receive any salary increase (regardless of the education level that they attain),” the update noted.

The proposal would mean raises ranging from $610 to $6,300 or 0.86% to 16.04% with the average increase being $3,249.84, or 5.53%, according to the proposal.

Not all certified staff would receive equal pay increases through the proposed new step system. In order to counter that, administration has proposed a “certified retention plan that targets the salaries of veteran teachers who may not benefit as greatly as newer staff members in this proposal.”

Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski said the district has submitted a proposal for consideration and approval by the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to use a portion of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) dollars to fund this set payment amount. Arkansas received $1.25 billion in ESSER funds, according to the Arkansas Department of Education. Arkansas ESSER funds are used to support and provide interventions that address student learning loss, summer enrichment programs, and comprehensive after-school programs with 90% Arkansas’ funds sub-granted to school districts and community organizations.

The funds have a timetable of three years to be used, meaning districts that receive funds have a three-year window to complete projects using the funds. That three-year window began July 2021.

The proposal FSPS sent to DESE for approval of ESSER funds is for a single payment for the 2022-23 school year, said Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communications and community partnerships for FSPS. Because the school board placed an emphasis on bettering teacher salaries in the upcoming school year, FSPS administration looked at revenue projections in order to make the proposed change to the certified step salary, the update said.

“Unique circumstances that include positive revenue growth have provided the District this opportunity to make this important foundational change. It is also important that we be competitive in order to attract and retain the best educators now and in the future,” Morawski said.

The average pay raise for teachers in percentage terms is still well below recent raises provided to Morawski. When Morawski’s contract as superintendent for Fort Smith Public Schools was recently extended, his contracted 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.