School board approves raises

By: 
Bob Bonnar

Bob Bonnar

NLJ Publisher

 

Certified teachers in Newcastle will receive a $750 raise in their salaries next year, while classified staff — bus drivers, secretaries, maintenance, custodial and other support staff  — will be paid an additional 35 cents an hour after the Weston County School District #1 board of trustees approved nearly a half-million dollars in increased spending for the next school year at their May 8 meeting.

An increase in student enrollment, combined with legislative approval of an external cost adjustment to the state’s school funding model, will result in an anticipated increase of approximately $400,000 in school district revenue for next year, according to WCSD #1 Business Manager Deb Sylte, and the board chose to use a significant portion of that money on personnel.

The increases in salary and compensation are anticipated to cost the district a little more than $140,000 next year, and the board also chose to pay increases in cost of insurance and retirement benefits that total an estimated $64,000.

“I am hesitant to give somebody raises and then turn around and take it out of their benefit package,” WCSD #1 Superintendent Brad LaCroix told the board when he presented them with  the spending proposals recommended by the district’s administrative team.

Administrators and directors will receive $750 annual raises as well, and the board also elected to increase substitute pay by five dollars a day — for a total annual cost of $6,000 — and a $200 increase in coaching salaries that will total an additional $8,000.

While this is the first increase to the district’s pay scale approved by the school board since the 2015-16 school year, the board did approve pay increases for “steps,” or years of service, the following year and a $500 bonus was given to full-time employees last year. Certified teachers also received raises in each of the last three years when they advanced on the scale based on additional degrees or certification.

It is believed the increase to the base pay — from $45,250 to $46,000 — for certified teachers will keep WCSD #1 near the middle of the pack for teacher pay in Wyoming (currently 25th out of 48 districts), but LaCroix predicted more will have to be done eventually to overcome a lack of new teachers coming into the profession.

“Teaching shortages are starting to show themselves pretty badly,” LaCroix said, noting that the problem is not limited to Wyoming or Weston County, but is being experienced across the country.

LaCroix noted that pay increases would not be a “silver bullet” for the problem of looming teacher shortages, and that may have helped the board decide to also change how personal and sick days are awarded to personnel.

“One of the things that was requested is a little bit more flexibility with the staff and the ability to use days differently — to attend activities, family events, whatever,” LaCroix explained before proposing that employees continue to receive a total of 12 personal and sick days each year, but that they receive a higher number of personal days annually after serving in the district for a decade or more.

Under the proposal approved by the board, employees will receive nine sick days and three personal days per year for their first 10 years of employment. The next ten years they will receive eight sick days and four personal days, and those who are with the district 20 years or longer will receive seven sick days and five personal days.

While the change may mean teachers will spend a couple of extra days a year outside of their classrooms, LaCroix explained that awarding the flexibility for additional personal days to more experienced teachers makes sense on a number of levels.

“The reason that we are making this recommendation is we feel, generally speaking, your more veteran staff tend to be a little more prepared, they leave a little better lesson plans, and deserve a little bit different recognition. It doesn’t change the overall number of days. It just gives them more flexibility,” he said.

In addition to awarding pay increases, the board also approved an additional $58,000 in spending on curriculum, a continuation of extra counseling services for students, money to seek an athletic trainer and funds to continue having a fourth third grade teacher at the elementary school.

These additional expenditures are in line with the extra $400,000 the district is estimated to receive next year under the school funding model, but the board also acknowledged that they may have to spend an estimated $100,000 on outside placement of special education students after the legislature put a cap on that spending.

“I don’t think anybody is excited about using general fund money for placement, but right now as a district, to protect ourselves and still do what’s best for kids you probably have to anticipate that amount of money,” LaCroix said.

Sylte told the group that the anticipated carryover for next year is between $800,000 and $1 million, so there will be money to cover the additional expense of placements if it is needed. She explained that the budget carryover — or reserve — last year was $1.4 million and it stood at $1.6 million the year before, but it has been as low as $700,000 in the past two decades.

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