School board discusses salary increases

Published 5:20 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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In an effort to keep wages competitive, Lincoln County Board of Education members are considering raising wages for certified and classified staff. 

Director of Finance Lee Ann Smith presented salary proposals during the May 9 working meeting, beginning with classified staff. 

Smith recommended a $1 per-hour raise for classified employees, which averages out to about a seven-percent raise across the board, with some areas receiving a little more than $1. 

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“This year’s comparison to other districts is much more favorable than last year,” Smith said. “Last year when we compared to other districts we were way behind. Last year we gave on average a 12 percent increase to classified staff, so that made a big impact.”

She also recommended adding a “30+ year” category to reward employees who reach that level of service. 

“In the past, once you hit 25 years you do not receive an increase due to your years of experience so we’re looking to do that and we’re also doing that on the certified side,” she said. 

Since the 2019-2020 school year, Smith said custodian pay has increased 27 percent; cooks’ pay has increased by 32 percent; bus drivers’ pay has gone up 24 percent; maintenance is up 20 percent; bookkeepers’ pay is up 21 percent; and instructional assistants are up 21 percent. 

“This is just a sampling. I just picked a few jobs, but these amounts are very indicative of what we’ve done across the board and we will continue to build on that going forward and continue to compare to districts in our area to make sure we are competitive,” Smith said. “We want the best here so we want to attract the best.” 

The total cost of the proposed classified raise is estimated at $435,000 from the general fund next year. 

For certified staff, Smith proposed a seven-percent increase for ranks I, II, and III; a four-percent increase for rank IV; and a 2-percent increase for rank V. 

Smith also proposed adding a 30+ year category to reward long-term employees. 

Last year the board approved a three-percent raise for certified staff, she said. 

“With this raise, our certified pay would have increased around 15 percent since the 2019-20 school year,” Smith said. 

The total cost of raises for certified staff would be about $1 million including benefits. 

Smith quoted a statement that was read to the Kentucky General Assembly regarding the state’s teacher shortage. 

“The teacher shortage in Kentucky is real and it is getting worse. Salary equalization is critical given the significant variation that can exist across school districts in Kentucky. Large inequities in teacher salaries among districts within the same labor market can put districts at a strong disadvantage in hiring and retaining teachers. Increasing teacher pay across the state and within districts will improve working conditions and research shows that an increase in teacher pay is correlated in an increase in student achievement as well as strengthening the pipeline of future teachers,” she read. 

In short, Smith said, there is no better way to invest in the districts’ students and future than by attracting and retaining the best staff possible. 

“There’s also no better way to show our staff that we appreciate all they are doing than by paying them fair, comparable and competitive wages,” she said. 

Smith said she has also proposed changes in athletic stipends and minor adjustments to school-level administrator supervision pay and/or contract days to keep those positions as attractive as possible. 

Board Chairman Etta Meek asked if the district can afford these increases. 

“We can afford it. I wouldn’t recommend it if we couldn’t,” Smith said. “One of the major ways we will be able to afford this is the increase in SEEK money. The per-student amount is currently $4,200. Next year that will go to $4,326 per student. That’s about a $400,000 increase for us. Next year it will go up to $4,586 which will be even more of an increase than this year.” 

Smith said it’s possible the district will receive additional SEEK money due to some new provisions since enrollment is low across the state. 

“Another reason we can afford it is because of the way we managed our ESSER (elementary and secondary emergency relief) money,” she said. “I have to say that we’re in solid financial shape right now because of the way that we chose to spend our money. Now is as good of a time as ever, while we’re stable, to go ahead and invest in our teachers. I think the longer that we wait to try to catch up we will eliminate the possibility of ever being able to catch up to the districts around us. We also have a healthy contingency…” 

Smith said the district is required to have a two-percent contingency fund and it currently has an 18-percent contingency fund. 

“I truly think it’s a win for the district. I think it will be, I hope it will be a big morale booster for our staff, certified and classified. I think it’s something, that if the board decides to do it, we could be proud of,” Smith said. 

Board member Christine Killen asked if these proposed raises would bring Lincoln County in line with other surrounding districts. 

“It definitely puts us in good shape,” Smith said. “There aren’t many districts around us that have actually set their raise rate or salary schedule yet. Those I have seen, yes, we are comparable or somewhat above.” 

Superintendent Bruce Smith said he supports the increases. 

“I support this and hope that the board will too and we will continue to work and try to be as competitive as we can. We’re going to be coming to you with some more things that maybe will help us in recruiting and retaining some staff in the district,” Bruce Smith said. 

The school board is expected to vote on the raises during the May 16 regular monthly meeting.  

Phillip Coots, a member of the audience, raised his hand to ask a question pertaining to the discussion and was told to sign up and wait until the public comment portion of the meeting. 

Meek said the public must sign up to speak. 

“We cannot have people just popping up and speaking, we could be here all night if that were allowed,” Meek said. “So you must sign in and come to the podium to speak. And also, a couple people asked me about this: the purpose of having public comment at the end of our working meeting is because we may respond to what you’re thinking about during our discussion and then you may not have to ask the question. If we don’t, then, of course, you can always ask it next week the next time we meet and that public comment is at the beginning when we have our regular board meetings.” 

Board Attorney Grant Chenoweth typically reads a legal statement regarding public comment but said he was not going to go through all of that for a simple question. 

Coots asked if the increased percentages included the 30+ year reward for staff. 

“By adding that we’re rewarding our long term employees and yes, to answer your question, it is already included in the amount. That would not be an additional amount,” Smith said.