Kentucky School Advocate
By Vickie Mitchell
A multitude of problems greeted Kelly E. Middleton when he became superintendent of the Newport Independent Schools in July 2012. The district had the lowest K-PREP scores in the state.
Student enrollment, and therefore, funding, had declined. Staff absences were high, but at the same time, teachers were clamoring for raises, which they hadn’t had in three years. Among Middleton’s first tasks was negotiating a three-year contract with the teachers’ union.
“Their No. 1 complaint was that they had not received a raise in three years,” said Middleton. “And here we are, the lowest-performing district in the state. Our community was not up for a raise.”
During his KSBA annual conference clinic session, Middleton described how he developed a deferred compensation program tied to attendance and K-PREP scores to motivate improvements in those areas. American Fidelity handles the deferred comp program for the district.
All employees were given the chance to enroll in the program, which requires participants to contribute $600 of their own money each year (about $25 pretax per pay period). The school district contributes $100 to each participant’s fund to meet tax rules for such compensation plans.
If goals for staff attendance and for K-PREP scores were met, the school district promised to make additional contributions to employees’ funds. “We said, ‘If our staff attendance is 95.5, we are going to give you $250,’” said Middleton. “If we gain three points on the K-PREP test, we are going to give you another $250.”
About half of all district employees opted to participate: 56 percent of certified staff and 48 percent of classified staff.
The district met its goals, and its matches for employees cost around $70,000 – about the same amount as the district would have spent on substitute teachers had its attendance not improved, said Middleton.
Middleton pointed out that a 2 percent raise for 200 teachers who earn an average $50,000 a year would cost a district $200,000, not including benefits.
Unlike a salary increase, the deferred compensation program can be halted at any time. Middleton was also pleased that the program has convinced some classified employees to invest their money for the first time.
As he looks ahead to next year’s contract talks with the union, Middleton is considering making some changes to the deferred compensation program, including increasing the staff attendance goal to 96.5 percent, requiring staff to work in the district for five years to be vested and receive the district match, rewarding teachers for home visits or similar projects, and having a finance 101 class.
Middleton has also conducted an opening-day session for teachers called The Value of a Sick Day. In it, he illustrates the difference in retirement benefits that teachers receive based on the number of sick days they have accumulated. Board policy states that teachers get 30 percent of their sick days reimbursed at retirement. In Middleton’s illustration, a teacher who made $70,000 for the last five years of her career and had no sick days would receive $4,083 a month for life while a teacher who earned the same but had 300 sick days at retirement would receive $4,480 per month for life.
Encouraging teachers to use fewer sick days will help improve the quality of education, Middleton said.
“We know that better teacher attendance will improve instruction and cut down on administrative headaches. We have trouble finding substitute teachers. Whether better teacher attendance saves us money long term, I could argue that both ways. But it is definitely better for the kids.”