Hearing held on school budget

January 23, 2015

The lone person who spoke during a public hearing Thursday on the Henry County Schools’ budget said some educators at various levels of the pay scale have cited the need for a salary step increase. 

Henry County Education Association representative Joshua Bocock addressed the Henry County School Board, which held the hearing to receive input on fiscal 2015-2016 (FY 2016) budget priorities. The board also held a budget work session.

A step increase, also known as salary step, is an incremental increase in salary based on previous qualifying professional experience, such as years of experience. 

According to a board document, for the five most recent years (2010-11 through this school year), only one step increase has been given to HCPS licensed and classified employees, and that was in 2011-12. Licensed employees include teachers, administrators, librarians and guidance counselors; classified employees include clerical, cafeteria and maintenance workers; paraprofessionals; and bus drivers.

In terms of across-the-board salary increases for licensed and classified employees, no increase was given in 2010-11, a 3 percent increase was given in 2011-12, and a 5 percent increase was given in 2012-13 (the latter in connection with state requirements for increased retirement contributions). A 2 percent across-the-board increase was given effective January 2014, and no across-the-board increase was given for 2014-15. 

Bocock said educators have expressed concerns “about mobility through the salary scale,” not just those at the upper end of the scale (the most years of experience) but those with many fewer years of experience.

He added that employees look at the pay scale’s salary steps “as almost a promise.” 

“That’s part of the frustration with salaries the last few years,” Bocock said.

He also said he is pleased that a 5 percent increase for special population paraprofessionals, (their pay is less than general paraprofessionals) is being considered by the board as well as some salary increase for teachers. 

At the school board’s Jan. 8 meeting, Superintendent Jared Cotton and staff proposed a multi-year plan for increasing salaries in order to bring the salary scale up to market — comparable to others in the region — and addressing other discrepancies in the salary scale.

For example, the plan called for, in year 1 (2015-16), a 1 percent increase for the entire scale and for increasing salary to market for several hard-to-fill positions, among other things. The proposal called for, in year 2 (2016-17), bringing all below-market teachers to market salaries and adjusting the lag years to market, among other things. Recommendations for year 3 (FY 2017-18) included implementing a step increase for all full-time employees on step scales (teachers and classified), among other things. 

At the Jan. 8 meeting, Collinsville District school board member Merris Stambaugh said he thought, rather than giving an across-the-board 1 percent salary increase for the entire salary scale for teachers in fiscal 2015-16, the division should instead address parts of the teacher pay scale that are less competitive than the market. Cotton said his staff would gather information about doing that.

On Thursday night, Cotton said it would cost about $320,000 to give the 1 percent across-the board salary increase and about $554,000 to bring the scale for 16 to 29 years of service up to market. He said, as he did at the Jan. 8 meeting, that the higher cost of the latter is why his staff had proposed doing the 1 percent across-the-board increase first. 

Cotton said he is continuing to meet with advisory groups to seek their input on budget priorities. Teachers near or at the top of the pay scale have expressed the need for a step increase, he said.

Stambaugh said he thinks the board should adopt a needs-based FY2016 budget. “I think we should ask for what we think (is needed),” he said. 

Cotton, who began as superintendent in January 2012, said the first year he was with the school division, there was about a $2 million budget shortfall, and the school division proposed a level-funded budget. That shortfall decreased over time, and the school board submitted a needs-based budget to the Board of Supervisors for FY2015 (this school year), he said.

According to previous Bulletin articles, the proposed FY2015 schools budget requested a local funding increase of $476,847, but county staff recommended a local increase of $75,000. At a public hearing April 14 of last year, Joe DeVault, chairman of the school board at the time; Iriswood District school board member Curtis Millner; and Dorothy Carter, president of the Henry County Education Association, asked the supervisors for the full amount of funding requested, but the board of supervisors made no change to proposed school funding. 

According to Cotton and Dawn Lawson, the school division’s chief financial officer, nearly 80 percent of the school division’s total budget is for salaries and benefits.

Cotton said the school division would like to increase employee pay, but everything needed can’t be done in one year because of the cost. 

In an interview, board Chairman Betsy Mattox, who represents the Reed Creek District, said, “All of us would like very much to give employees a raise,” but, she added, that depends on funding.

In addition to the need for salary increases, the school division needs a budget line-item and funding from the board of supervisors for capital improvements, according to Cotton and Monica Hatchett, the school division’s coordinator for family and community engagement. Currently the school division is faced with trying to save money during the school year and ask supervisors to approve the use of that money as carry-forward funds. 

The hearing/workshop was at the Henry County Administration Building. School board members Terri Flanagan and Curtis Millner did not attend. 


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