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Higher pay for new, veteran Little Rock School District teachers still on table, officials say

Local tax revenue shortfall delaying plan, board told by Cynthia Howell | August 1, 2022 at 7:09 a.m.
Little Rock Central High School is shown in this file photo.

Little Rock School District leaders are continuing to hold out the possibility of pay increases to teachers for the 2022-23 school year despite lagging local tax collections.

Kelsey Bailey, the district's chief deputy of finance and operations, told the Little Rock School Board last week that fulfilling an earlier plan to raise the beginning teacher salary from $43,000 to $45,000 and increasing salaries of more veteran employees accordingly "is the number one goal for us" and "everything is looking solid."

However, those planned pay increases are yet to be submitted to the School Board for final approval because of shortfalls in local tax revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30. District leaders want to wait until later in August or in September for assurances that the raises can be afforded for 2022-23.

The net collections were $5.2 million less than projected, Bailey told the board Thursday night. The district budgeted for more than $177 million in local tax revenue.

He attributed the shortfall to taxpayers waiting to pay their current tax bills. Local property tax bills go out in April of each year and taxpayers have until October to pay without a penalty.

"Some people may be delaying paying -- instead of paying it in the spring or summer -- they will be paying in the fall because of their financial situations," Bailey said, citing increased consumer costs for fuel and food as contributing to the delays.

"I think out of that $5.2 million, I'm pretty confident that we will collect $4.5 million, perhaps up to $5 million," he continued. "We will get about a million later on in the actual calendar year. It just didn't hit within our fiscal year."

The district spent about $1.3 million more than budgeted for substitute employees, the result of vacancies and absences caused by the covid-19 virus. Additionally, the district spent $280,000 more than expected on custodial services.

Bailey said the numbers are preliminary until all the financial transactions for the just-ended 2021-22 fiscal year are completed in the coming days.

The School Board received the financial update at a meeting in which it voted 7-1 with one person absent for a resolution urging state lawmakers to consider using part of a $1.6 billion surplus in state revenue to increase teacher salaries statewide.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson had initially proposed that teacher raises be considered at a special legislative session to start Aug. 8. However, the governor has since said he won't put teacher salaries on the agenda for the session because of lack of support among a majority of lawmakers.

School Board member Jeff Wood was the sole "no" vote on the Little Rock resolution. Wood tried unsuccessfully to amend the resolution to commit the Little Rock district to raising salaries by the same dollar amounts that might be approved by the Legislature. That increase for Little Rock teachers would be over and above the $45,000 and $48,000 beginning teacher salaries that the district has already planned for 2022-23 and 2023-24.

Failure to match any state-provided raises with additional increases would make the Little Rock district less competitive in attracting teachers to work in the district, Wood said. He said it wouldn't be right to advocate for raises for teachers statewide "and not give our teachers the same raise."

Board member Evelyn Callaway said that while she supports raises for Little Rock teachers, she said the amendment proposed by Wood would obligate the district to an expense it might not be able to cover.

"I fear it would be a rabbit hole we can't get out of," Callaway said.

Also in regard to spending, the School Board authorized district leaders to enter into a contract with Ketcher and Co. of North Little Rock to re-roof Baseline Academy at a cost of $1.73 million and Metropolitan Vocational-Technical Skills Center at a cost of $2.665 million.

Ketcher was the sole bidder for the projects, despite widespread distribution of the request for proposals to roofing companies, Bailey said.

"There is not a lot of interest in larger [construction] projects," Bailey said, because companies fear they don't have the personnel to complete jobs -- putting the company in jeopardy of penalties for delayed completion.

Board member Michael Mason questioned putting a new roof on Baseline in light of plans to move Baseline pupils to the new Dr. Marian G. Lacey school once construction of the school is done.

Bailey said the district intends to transition Baseline Academy to a pre-kindergarten center.

Print Headline: Teacher pay raises are still goal of Little Rock School District


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