Input from Fort Smith teacher group not included in pay, benefits plan

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 450 views 

Unlike when drafting new personnel policies, members of the Fort Smith Public School’s personnel policy committee (PPC) are not given prior input in determining teacher salaries and benefits before plans are presented to the board of education.

FSPS Chief Financial Officer Charles Warren on April 24 presented to the school board a proposal to increase teacher pay resulting from the LEARNS Act. The 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.

The plan presented also included maintaining 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 proposal presented also included a proposed classified salary schedule change that included a base increase of almost $1,000 for all full-time staff and a minimum starting pay of $15/hour.

Warren then sent the proposal to the PPC chair on April 28. On May 2, Warren participated in a PPC Zoom meeting, wherein he delivered the same proposal to the PPC membership. On May 5, he emailed the proposed Certified Salary Schedule to all employees.

Ryan Gray, president of the Fort Smith Classroom Teachers Association and chair of the PPC, reported back to administration at the end of the day May 5 that an electronic vote on the proposal was taken and the PPC unanimously approved the proposal.

“Many of us were very nervous about how things would be done when it came to the LEARNS Act. I think when we saw the proposal, there was a collective sigh of relief,” Gray said. “It’s a good salary proposal.”

The proposed certified salary schedule, which is scheduled to be presented to the school board for approval Monday (May 22), has first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree making $50,000 (the state-required minimum), teachers with 10 years experience and a bachelor’s degree making $52,075, teachers with 20 years experience and a bachelor’s degree making $58,825 and teachers with 25 years experience and a bachelor’s degree making $62,200. Teachers who have completed additional college hours or earned additional degrees earn more.

But no teachers had a say in the process leading up to making the proposal, Gray noted in an e-mail to Talk Business & Politics.

“One thing I wanted to point out is that our admin refuses to bring the PPC benefits and compensation subcommittee to the table when forming raise proposals. They completely shut us out of talks the past two years and presented proposals for us to vote on with very little information. I’ve spent countless hours trying to work with them to make sure teacher voices are heard, but they’re content to shut us out and bring us a proposal for an up or down vote. The current proposal is fairly popular, but likely because it’s just better than anything we’ve seen for the past few years.”

In 2018, the FSPS board of education voted unanimously to move away from negotiating with the Fort Smith Education Association (FSEA), formerly the Fort Smith Classroom Teachers Association (FSCTA), toward negotiating with a personnel policy committee (PPC) made up of teachers from each of the district’s 27 campuses. Prior to that, the FSPS negotiated with FSEA since 1970. At the time, it was said the change would allow for more input from more teachers.

Warren said that the approach to amending the certified salary schedule was based on meeting the mandates of the LEARNS Act.

“Legal mandates remove opportunities for input and options for all the school districts in the state, not just our district,” Warren said.

Warren also said it’s his job to ensure pay and benefits is in the best financial interests of the district.

“Typically, input regarding items such as calendars and policies does not result in financial impacts to the district,” Warren said. “As the CFO, I’m required to ensure the financial sustainability of changes in salary and benefits. All employees are better served when I walk through viable financial options and first present the best model for both certified and classified salaries. After the information is presented, all parties have an equitable opportunity to provide input before final approval.”