A one-time bonus payment to veteran teachers that was approved in May with the updated teacher raise and salary scheduled has been approved by the Arkansas Department of Education, but the district still does not know when teachers will see the money.
The Fort Smith School Board approved a new salary schedule for certified employees May 9 that gave teachers on average a 5.89% pay increase for the 2022-23 contract year. With the largest increases going to base salary for newer teachers, many veteran teachers saw very little change in their salary.
The approved certified salary schedule for certified staff added $5,500 to the base certified salary schedule (CSS) and leveled the current “step” increases from step two to 22. It raised the base salary from $38,500 to $44,000 for the 2022-23 school year. The new step schedule raised teacher salaries on average by $3,471.81 in the new contract year (5.89%) with pay increases ranging from $800 to $6,300 (1.16% to 16.04%).
Charles Warren, FSPS chief financial officer, said Friday (Oct. 31) that the Retention Non Recurring Payment was approved by the ADE. But that money has not yet been distributed to staff, and administration will not say when it will be.
“We are currently looking at payment timing options to release the funds properly and in accordance with the ‘retention’ intent of the program,” Warren said.
At the time the salary change was approved, Warren said veteran teachers would receive a smaller increase than new teachers, but explained this was because the former salary schedule was skewed so that veteran teachers were already making more than most districts in the Fort Smith metropolitan area while beginning teachers were making much less. He said the new schedule was a “market correction.”
The restructure of the certified salary schedule came with a $4.5 million cost for the district. In order to counter that not all certified staff received equal pay increases through the new salary schedule, administration 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 at the time.
Along with the salary schedule changes the board approved a $1,500 retention payment for all veteran certified staff members in the 16-22 step categories. The retention payments were not included in the $4.5 million.
The district submitted a proposal for consideration and approval by the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to use a portion of ESSER dollars to fund this set payment amount. Arkansas received $1.25 billion in ESSER funds, according to the Arkansas Department of Education website. 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 proposal FSPS sent to DESE for approval of ESSER funds was for a single payment for the 2022-23 school year, said Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communications and community partnerships for FSPS.