Some veteran Fort Smith Public Schools teachers will receive a one-time bonus payment that was approved in May with the updated teacher raise and salary schedule on Dec. 15, according to a memo from FSPS administration.
A $1,500 payment, which administration refers to as a retention non recurring payment, to be paid with federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds in the 2022-23 school year was approved by the school board to supplement the approved 2022-23 restructured Certified Salary Schedule, the memo said.
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 average pay raise for teachers in the new schedule in percentage terms is still well below the most recent raise provided to District Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski. When Morawski’s superintendent contract was extended, his salary was set at 14.47% higher than his salary approved Dec. 30, 2020. Certified staff pay had on average increased 1.11% during that same time.
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 Oct. 31 that the retention non recurring payment was approved by the ADE, but administration did not know when the checks would be distributed to staff. Friday (Nov. 4) he sent email to staff, saying the payments would be released on Dec. 15, with qualified staff on Step 16 to 22 receiving the payments.
“Qualified staff include classroom teachers and other department level certified staff, including but not limited to, interventionists, instructional specialists, special education coordinators, and adult education teachers. School level administrators (such as principals and assistant principals) will also qualify. District level administrators (such as department directors) will not qualify for the payment,” the email said. “Nurses, police officers, professional support staff, PT/OT assistants, and SLP assistants have separate salary schedules and will not qualify for the payment.”
At the time the step salary change for certified employees 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,” Morawski said at the time.
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. 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.