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The Little Rock School District has proposed a teacher raise of $1,135 per teacher for the coming 2019-20 school year that will increase the salary for a new teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience from $34,865 to $36,000.

Superintendent Mike Poore submitted the proposal Monday to Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who acts as the school board in the district that is operating under state control without an elected school board.

The proposed raise -- which amounts to about a 3% increase to the starting salary -- would be the first increase to the teacher salary schedule in the capital city district since 2013-14, according to information Poore sent to Key.

District teachers did receive a $1,000 one-time bonus in 2017-18, and eligible employees have received the annual $1,341 step increase for their additional year of experience, Poore said.

The proposed $1,135 per teacher raise is the result of negotiations between leaders of the district and the Little Rock Education Association, which represents teachers and support staff in the school system.

The tentative agreement was signed Monday morning and teacher members of the employee association approved the proposal at a meeting Monday afternoon, said Teresa Gordon, president of the organization.

Arkansas Education Department spokesman Kimberly Mundell late Monday afternoon confirmed that the agency had received the proposal from the school district.

"The commissioner has been out of the office today, so no action has been taken yet," Mundell said.

Poore, in his memorandum to Key, said the proposed raise was made possible by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas Legislature's support earlier this year of a new law to raise minimum teacher salaries statewide.

The Teacher Salary Enhancement Act, or Act 170 of 2019, calls for all Arkansas districts to reach a minimum starting salary of $36,000 for a bachelor's degree and $40,650 for a master's degree in four years, or the 2022-23 school year.

The Little Rock district proposal is to meet the $36,000 minimum teacher salary next school year. With the proposal, the top salary for a teacher with a master's degree plus 30 additional education credits and at least 21 years of experience will increase from $69,919 to $71,054.

Both Poore and Gordon said the tentative one-year salary agreement between the district and the employee union falls short of an initial goal of a multi-year agreement that would ultimately provide a starting salary more in line with starting salaries paid elsewhere -- primarily in Northwest Arkansas, where population and student enrollment are growing.

Gordon said the financial projections weren't stable enough at present to go beyond the current proposal but she hoped that they can be re-examined in the fall.

"There are a lot of great things happening in our district for our students and a large part of that is due to our employees. They deserve everything they can get," she said.

"LRSD and LREA had hoped to map out a three-year projection of salary increases with an intended target of $41,000 for teachers with [bachelor of arts degrees]," Poore said about the district and association.

"That target could not be met with confidence due to three key reasons," Poore continued. "One, we have to ensure that budget reductions for 2019-20 are realized. We are uncertain about future student enrollment. Finally, we are concerned about the potential loss of revenue as a result of Walmart asking for an amended tax valuation for their properties in Pulaski County. The request by Walmart will reduce LRSD's revenue for 2019-20 by $1.3 million while this issue gets settled."

The Little Rock district -- the largest in the state until last school year -- has lost hundreds of students in recent years, resulting in decreased state aid to the school district. The enrollment drop is due, in part, to the increase in the number and sizes of charter schools in Pulaski County, which are publicly funded schools but operate independently of traditional school districts.

In addition to having to cut expenses to offset the loss of student numbers and state aid, the district has had to adjust to the end of special state desegregation aid. The district had received that aid -- which was as much as $37.3 million a year -- for decades.

Regarding a possible drop in tax revenue to the district, the Walmart corporation is seeking to amend the taxable value of its 10 properties in Pulaski County, including stores in the Little Rock School District.

At issue is about $4.5 million in annual revenue to the school districts and other tax revenue-receiving institutions in the county, Pulaski County Deputy Assessor Joe Thompson said Monday.

The challenge to property values for the stores is going before Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde this month but is expected to be appealed by one side or the other in Pulaski County circuit court and ultimately in the state Supreme Court.

The teacher salary increase will be cost neutral for the Little Rock district in the 2019-20 school year because of the passage of the state law and funding, but the raise does create an ongoing commitment of more than $2.6 million each year thereafter.

The district and association leaders will resume negotiations later this summer on salary schedules for district employees who are not on the certified teacher salary schedule. Those employees include bus drivers, child nutrition workers, custodians and security staff. Those support staff employees who now earn less than $10 an hour can expect an increase to that amount, also the result of a recent change in state law.

Kelsey Bailey, the district's chief financial officer, said the district is seeking to pay the increased minimum wage starting at the beginning of the school year rather than Jan. 1, the mandatory deadline for instituting the $10 an hour minimum wage.

Metro on 06/11/2019

Print Headline: Little Rock district proposes teacher pay raise, first since '13


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