Fort Smith teacher pay plan approved; superintendent salary boosted above $250,000

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,171 views 

The Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education approved salary schedules for classified and certified employees for the 2023-24 contract year, and the superintendent’s contract during its regular meeting Monday (May 22).

The new schedules give an average $2,183 raise to classified employees, an average $3,421 raise to certified employees and a $7,383 raise for Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawaski. The board unanimously passed a new certified salary schedule that has a starting base salary for first year teachers with a bachelor’s degree at $50,200 and increases the base pay by $2,000.

When the proposed certified salary schedule was first presented to the board in April, it listed a starting base salary of $50,000 because that was what is dictated by the Arkansas LEARNS Act.

“Upon reflection, the realization that, to be quite honest with you, our peers in Northwest Arkansas, which were already at a base close to $50,000 if not exceeding $50,000 were going to already have a base that was in excess of this $50,000. That means the four Northwest Arkansas peers would be one, two, three and four in ranking of base salary, and the rest of the state because of the state mandate, would be tying for fifth. My position is that we are the fifth largest school district and I believe that we have a salary schedule that reflects the importance that we place on our certified staff. So that base increase is going to be reflected by utilizing the amount of $50,200. That way when they are ranking these that will be published eventually throughout the state, I believe we will see that we will be in the top 10 if not top 5 when it comes to average classroom teacher salary,” said Charles Warren, FSPS chief financial officer.

The  LEARNS act, approved by the Arkansas Legislature earlier this year, mandates that all public school districts raise the minimum certified teacher pay to $50,000 a year and certified teachers who make more than $50,000 a year receive a $2,000 raise. State-provided Teacher Minimum Salary Raise (TMSR) funds provided $2.9 million of the funds needed for the pay increase of the approximately 1,100 FSPS teachers. The district was able to use funds from other district sources to maintain step and lane increases for all certified teachers, including veteran teachers, Warren said. He said it also includes adding three additional steps for veteran teachers, something the school board discussed wanting last year.

“The salary schedule structure changes made by FSPS in the past positioned us to meet the mandates of the LEARNS Act. The strong economic growth of our community allows us to propose salary schedules that generate positive impact on our certified and classified employees while meeting the goals of the state’s leaders,” Warren said.

The new step schedule will give certified staff an average 5.57% pay increase with the highest increases being 14.43 percent and the lowest being 3.67% increase. First year teachers with a bachelor’s degree will have the $50,200 base salary, that will increase to $51,250 for teachers with a bachelor’s degree in year eight, to $55,450 for the same degree and college hours in year 15 and $62,200 for the same degree and college hours in year 25.

School Board Secretary Dalton Person said the district was able to add one step to the certified salary schedule last year and this year is able to add three more steps. Last year, the district had an increase on the salary schedule of $4.484 million along with $1 million in one-time payments, or roughly $5.5 million invested in teacher salaries, Person said. This year, the district is investing roughly $6.9 million in certified salaries.

“So over the last two years, we’ve invested $12.4 million in teacher salaries in this district,” Person said. “It is a good salary schedule. We should be proud of ourselves for being able to produce this for our teachers,” Person said.

The classified salary schedules for 2023-24 that were approved Monday also add steps 23-25 to each schedule. The district is adding a base increase of about $1,000 to the salary schedules for all steps up to step 25 for all classified employees, Warren said.

The district also proposed a few years ago a pathway to $15 an hour, which would get all hourly employees up to a minimum of $15 an hour. For the new contract year, the district will be able to accomplish that bringing the last group – first year, uncertified child nutrition workers – up to $15 an hour. There is about a $1,200 a year increase in salary if child nutrition workers become certified in child nutrition, Warren said. The average pay increase for classified workers is 7.65% or $2,183 with the highest increase being 18.08% ($5,328) and lowest being 1.67% ($936).

The board also approved the superintendent’s contract by a vote of six to one with Board Member Sandy Dixon voting against the motion to approve. Dixon questioned the contract presented, saying that she did not feel the performance metrics that were discussed at the superintendent’s evaluation were in the contract tied to the duties of a superintendent. She moved for an executive session to discuss the contract. That motion did not receive a second and failed on the floor.

The superintendent’s contract for 2023-24 contract year, adds a year to his employment with the district, taking it through June 30, 2026, and sets Morawski’s annual salary at $253,838.98. This is a 3% increase from the $246,445.61 salary in last year’s contract.

Last year’s contracted provided that if the superintendent received a favorable evaluation, which he did, he shall receive not less than a 3% pay increase. His contract in 2021-22 stipulated that if there was a favorable evaluation, he would receive an increase equal to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for the South as calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor. His pay increase for the 2022 contract year included an 8.4% pay increase.

Morawski’s new contract stipulates that “in any year in which the Superintendent receives a composite performance review score greater than 3.0 on a 5.0 scale, as measured by the
Superintendent’s Performance Goals, the Board may, but is not required to, increase the Superintendent’s annual compensation or pay an annual bonus or both. In no event shall
the Superintendent be paid less than the salary set forth pursuant to Section 3.1 of this
Amended Contract except by mutual agreement of the two parties.”

Morawski’s contract also states that the district shall provide a vehicle for his business and personal use and shall assume all expenses related to this use of this vehicle, including insurance, fuel, maintenance, etc. and will provide Morawski with a cell phone and phone service. It also states that during the term of the contract, the district will make the superintendent’s scheduled graduate student debt payments in an amount grossed up to account for the associated tax, at a rate of 1.5 times the payment.

Morwaski’s original contract was approved Nov. 30, 2020, with an annual salary of $215,292,  the same as the salary for then superintendent Dr. Doug Brubaker, who resigned from his position to take the superintendent position with the Texarkana, Texas, Independent School District.

According to the 2021-2022 employee contracts posted on the FSPS website, Morawski’s annual salary for that year was $227,348.35, a 5.6% increase from the salary listed when he was hired.