With little discussion Monday evening, the School District of Rhinelander Board of Education approved pay raises for the 2020-21 school year for professional employees on the salary schedule, other professional and support staff and administration.
The plan was outlined by Robert Thom, the district's director of business services.
"We have a teachers' salary schedule proposed, and what we did was just follow the same as last year, we increased it by the CPI (Consumer Price Index) so each staff increases by 1.81 percent," Thom said. "And then we allowed the step movement so everyone would still move their step and the steps were slightly bigger than they were last year. And by doing that, most people will get an increase of about $2,300 to $2,500 for next year."
The only exception is for those people already at step 13+, which is the top of the scale. Those employees will only see a 1.81 percent pay raise.
Staff members who hold a bachelor's degree are on a separate salary scale then those who hold a master's degree. So those employees at 13+ with just a bachelor's degree will see an increase of $1,077.27 while those with a masters will receive a raise of $1,189.44.
"Taking that and applying it to the existing staff and running it through to see what it would cost, it comes to $407,000, or 3.6 percent total increase in salaries," Thom said. "The note on there is not all of these people will be back next year, so we figure you end up saving money as you have teachers come and go, higher paid teachers retire and some of them leave and we bring in new teachers out of college, so you save money that way. You don't have to spend the whole $407,000 projected."
The recommendation also included a 3.63 percent increase for other employees not on salary, such as profession and support staff and administration. This resulted in a total increase for this category of $128,413.
"We just took the 3.63 percent, we just took that and applied it to the support staff so we could keep it even with the teachers," Thom said.
"If the board remembers, we cleaned up the salary scale and caught people up," board member Duane Frey noted. "Some people didn't get a raise for quite a few years. I think we have a good document (pay scale charts) here, a solid document, and I recommend the board approve it, our committee (employee relations) did."
Board member Ron Lueneburg asked how Rhinelander compares to other districts in the area. of similar size, as far as administrative pay. Thom said he would have to research that in order to give an accurate answer.
"Yeah, people are going to leave the district, but I'm not sure that's the best way to close the salary gap," Lueneburg said. "I mean that's well ahead of other government increases that are in the area."
While he understood the step increases, Lueneburg noted at the police department, where he is a captain, it takes an officer four years to move a step under the department's process.
"A 3.6 percent jump, if you take out the step increases and everyone else, it is a fairly significant jump, and that's why I asked where we were in comparison," he said.
Frey said he would guess that the salaries are probably in the middle of other comparable districts in the area.
"I would say so," said Maggie Peterson, the district's director of learning support. "Without having apples to apples, similar size districts to similar size districts, it's a little hard to say off the top of my head, but that is the impression I have, as well. In our area, we're not the highest and we're not the lowest in any of those different groups."
She said she knows the support staff are actually paid less than several area districts that have a smaller student population "and a little less complicated work environments."
"One of our goals as a board is to keep quality teachers," Frey said. "I don't think this is unreasonable. I think our administrative staff is doing a good job of helping staff that are struggling, or helping them find other employment if need be."
Lueneburg said he brought the matter up because should the same formula be followed every year, the increases could become significant over time.
"I want to retain good people here, too, and I want our staff paid well," Lueneburg said. "But is this realistic, and can we, in the long term, sustain doing this?"
Board vice president Judy Colin said she believes the scale is realistic and sustainable. She said that the board has dealt with other matters that were a financial drain.
"That puts us in a better position to be able to look at our salaries," Conlin said. "The other thing that makes school districts different from other government agencies is there used to be a surplus of teachers; there is now a shortage in every area. It used to be you had hundreds of applications in English, social studies, all the elementary positions. We now face shortages in all of those areas, which places districts in a position where sometimes they have to bid against each other and recruit from districts and have them come to their districts because they can pay more."
Through attendance at a recent seminar, she said she learned that not only have a lot of teachers retired, there aren't as many people coming our of college with education degrees to replace them.
"We have fewer teachers that when they enter a university program stay and actually graduate with a degree in education," Conlin said. "And within the first five years of teaching, a big, significant portion of those teachers leave teaching. So if we don't recognize that we that we need to be paying teachers, we're going to find ourselves in dire straits, which has all kinds of implications about not having enough qualified people that are teaching and how that affects student achievement."
Thom was asked to bring salary data from comparable districts to the next board meeting.
He added the reason the 3.63 percent was used was that it has proven difficult to get teachers aids to come to the district and stay for any period of time.
"You give them 3.63 percent and you're talking like 40 to 50 cents per hour increase. And if you said we're only going to give you 1.81 percent, and you start thinking you're going to get a 20 cents per hour if you come back, even though it took us six months to find somebody, you got a whole new problem," Thom said.
Board member Mike Roberts said it has been a while since the district has been able to give these kind of salary increases.
"Just because we do it this year doesn't mean we have to do it next year," he noted.
In a roll call vote, the eight members present approved the increases. Board member Ann Eshelman was absent.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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