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KSBA News Article

Raising the stakes

raises

Most boards approve employee raises in 2022-23

Kentucky School Advocate
September 2022

By Josh Shoulta
KSBA staff writer

Personnel expenses are the biggest part of the annual budgets local school boards approve. While boards are required under state law to adopt salary schedules for their employees each year, the levels of those salaries, including extra duty stipends, step increases and benefits, are all local decisions.

Having that flexibility allows districts to address their own personnel needs, unlike state government which is a unified personnel classification and salary scale system. In 10 of the past 12 years prior to the 2022 legislative session, state employees did not receive any salary increases, leaving a lot of ground for employees – everyone from social workers to corrections officers – to make up.

Education funding was once again the subject of much debate during this past spring’s biennial budget session of the General Assembly. Calls for overdue increases in education spending have echoed throughout the capitol in Frankfort for years, but in 2022 they resonated with renewed urgency. Schools were emerging from the pandemic but faced significant challenges brought on by two years of interrupted in-person instruction. Historic shortages of educators, bus drivers and other support personnel – that predated COVID-19 – have only worsened, stretching dangerously thin the operational capacity of schools across the Commonwealth.

In the end, state lawmakers approved increases in base SEEK funding, transportation, full-day kindergarten and career and technical education, among others. While there was no mandated raise for school district employees, as some advocates had hoped, the funding increases made locally approved raises more feasible for many districts.

KSBA in July surveyed school districts about local raises asking, “Did your school board approve an across-the-board employee raise for the 2022-23 school year (that was separate and in addition to step increases, and no matter if it was called a cost of living/COLA increase; increment; raise; etc.)?”

In all, 95 percent answered, “Yes.” All but nine of Kentucky’s school districts included raises in their 2022-23 budgets. About 37 percent gave all employees the same percent raise, while approximately 58 percent of districts adopted more complex compensation packages for 2022-23 such as additional raises for targeted employees, alternating increases for classified/certified staff or increases determined by years of service.

Fairview Independent approved a 3 percent increase for certified staff in 2022-23 and an $1 per-hour increase for classified staff. The increases were part of an aggressive multi-year effort to bring compensation in line with other districts in the region, said Fairview Superintendent Jackie Risden-Smith.

“The board and I were intentional in restructuring finances when I came into the district in 2018,” she said. “Having in place competitive salaries was a short-term and long-term goal.”

Those goals were slated to be achieved over five years, but the board team reached them in just three. Due to financial hardships in the years prior to Risden-Smith’s hiring in 2018, the district did not offer any raises in 2016-17 and was even forced to freeze step increases. The small eastern Kentucky school system has come a long way in that time, having offered raises in three of the previous four years, none less than 2.5 percent.

“We knew that if our district wanted to stay competitive in the recruitment and retention of both classified and certified educators, we would need to do something different than what had always been done,” Risden-Smith said.

The success can be attributed, in part, to the shared vision of the board team, she added.

Similarly, the calculated approach of Hopkins County Schools began with analyzing data from surrounding school districts.

“During this review Hopkins County realized they had to increase the salaries for staff with lower years of service to recruit and retain valuable employees,” said Chief Financial Officer Eydie Tate.

All employees received a minimum 3 percent raise, one of the largest the district has ever given. The board went even further and approved a 5 percent raise for certified employees with five or fewer years of service and a 4 percent raise for those with six to nine years of service.

After analyzing annual salary data compiled by the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC), Barren County Schools sought to address a disparity in bus driver pay.

“Last year’s survey indicated that our bus driver pay was not on par with other districts,” Superintendent Bo Matthews said. “The board approved a dollar-an-hour increase.”

That increase for bus drivers went beyond the minimum 4 percent raise for all district employees. The board-approved increase was to both ensure retention of current drivers and attract new ones, he said.

School boards and superintendents understand that pay increases aren’t just about sending folks home with more money. It is also the commitment that the raises symbolize.

“I want to say a big thank you for our board of education,” Mercer County Schools Superintendent Jason Booher said in an Aug. 5 video. “What they did this summer was provide our staff – classified and certified – with one of the biggest pay raises in the state of Kentucky.”

The board approved a 5-percent bump for certified staff while classified staff averaged a 10-percent increase. That sent a clear message to everyone in the district.

“Our teachers, administrators and the community realize that we are serious about being the best,” said board chair Randy Phillips. “We as a board wanted to do this for our staff and show them how important they are to us. They all do a phenomenal job for our kids.”

Many districts also noted that their budgets for this past year and/or this year included one-time stipends which were not included in KSBA’s tabulation of raises.

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