Democrats’ attempt to raise school support staff hourly pay tabled

by Ronak Patel ([email protected]) 2,609 views 

Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, presented legislation in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday (Feb. 15) to increase school funding and to raise salaries for non-teacher staff at public schools.

According to SB149, the Arkansas Department of Education would advise schools to pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour to school support staff, such as cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and custodians. Leding said the report by the Adequacy Report recommended increasing the minimum wage for classified employees to $13, which is a $2 increase from the current hourly wage. His bill, supported by Democratic legislators, takes the pay rate up an additional $2 per hour.

Sen. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, told Leding he has concerns with the wording of his bill. He said the word “advising” doesn’t mandate the schools to increase pay for classified employees.

“This is not requiring. Some districts may choose to pay less than $15 an hour and some may pay more than $15 an hour,” Dotson said.

Leding said he worked with the Bureau of Legislative Research on the wording of the bill.

Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, shared similar concerns as Dotson about whether the money would be used for pay raises.

“It’s hard for me to trust the money we give to schools will actually go out, will go where we intend or hope it’ll go,” Davis said. “We’ve seen that with teacher salaries.”

Davis added that pay raises for classified employees will be addressed in the LEARNS Act, Gov. Sarah Sanders’ proposed education legislation that has been outlined but not filed as a bill yet. A spokesperson for Sanders’ office tells Talk Business & Politics her legislation will address non-teaching education personnel pay.

“Further details will be presented when the full text of the bill is released. The Governor is working with partners in the legislature to pass this bold, historic education reform,” said Governor Sanders’ spokesperson Alexa Henning.

According to Leding’s bill, foundation funding, which is an amount school districts receive from the state and property taxes for students, would be increased from $7,182 to $8,195 for the current school year. The bill shows another increase in the following school year for foundation funding.

During his testimony, Leding said his $4 an hour increase for classified employees would come from the increased foundation funding. When asked by Dotson about the cost of his bill, he responded it would cost $43 million.

A motion was made by Davis to table the bill until a later date. The motion was approved by the committee.