ESTEM Public Charter Schools Inc. announced Tuesday that it will raise the pay of its teachers by more than $3,800 in the 2021-22 school year, making $40,000 the starting salary for first-year teachers with bachelor's degrees.
While starting salaries in Northwest Arkansas and in some spots elsewhere in the state are $40,000 or more, eSTEM is among the first -- if not the first -- public school system in Pulaski County to offer a $40,000 starting salary for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree.
The Little Rock School Board, for example, which offered a starting salary of $36,000 this year and has not enacted a salary plan for next year, earlier this month approved a resolution stating its intent to pay a starting salary of $48,000 by July 1, 2024. The Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District will offer a starting salary of $39,500, up from $38,500, to a starting teacher in the coming school year as the result of board action earlier this month.
The eSTEM charter system is also increasing the salary of first-year teachers with master's degrees from the current $41,104 to $45,000, John Bacon, chief executive officer for the five-campus system of 3,180 students, said.
"This means that salaries for all classroom teachers on the bachelor's degree scale will be increased by $3,864," he said in a message to school employees that he forwarded to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "And salaries for all classroom teachers on the master's degree scale will be increased by $3,894."
Bacon paired the news of the salary increases with the announcement of a $1,500 payment for extra work done in this current school year -- to be paid by the end of May -- and a $1,000 extra-duty stipend to follow in late August. Both payments are for full-time employees.
"I am thrilled that we are able to reward our employees for their hard work with these substantial adjustments to our compensation system!" Bacon wrote to employees.
" I hope these changes will provide you with extra motivation to finish the year strong and to confidently recommit to our eSTEM students and families by signing your work agreements in anticipation of an exceptional upcoming school year," he said.
Salaries to all full-time employee categories other than teachers -- including administrators, deans, counselors, facilitators, nurses, therapists and other administrative support personnel -- will increase by 1.5%.
The 2021-22 salary adjustments will be reflected on the work agreements distributed to employees next week, he said.
Bacon said the salary adjustments are made possible by Act 679 of 2021, which created the Teacher Salary Equalization Fund that is intended to raise average teacher salaries statewide by providing money to districts that have an average teacher salary below $51,822.
ESTEM, which is listed by the state as having an average salary of $41,845 -- not counting any bonuses paid to teachers who are certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, is slated to receive $586,660.90 in the state equalizing money in the coming school year.
The eSTEM board of directors has approved the use of the money for the salary increases, Bacon said.
In regard to extra-duty payments to be made to employees by the end of May and again in late August, Bacon noted that the American Rescue Plan approved by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March will generate "a sizable supplement in federal funds," to eSTEM.
The federal American Rescue Plan will generate almost $7.2 million for eSTEM on top of almost $3.8 million that was allocated to the school system in two earlier federal covid-19 relief money.
"While there are limitations on the categories for which these funds can be used, we do have the ability to use a portion of the funds to provide extra-duty stipends for additional work required of employees due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," Bacon wrote to the employees.
"I am pleased to report that our board has approved a one-time payment of $1,500 for all full-time employees and $500 for all part-time [workers].We anticipate these payments will be made in late May via a special payroll to all personnel who are employed as of today for extra work performed during the 2020-2021 school year.
An additional $1,000 one-time extra-duty stipend for all full-time employees and $300 for part-time employees will be paid in late August "to active employees at that time for extra work that will be required during the 2021-2022 school year," he said.