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Little Rock School District board votes to raise starting teacher pay to $45,500

Board backs staff retention incentives by Cynthia Howell | August 26, 2022 at 7:13 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

Beginning teachers in the Little Rock School District will earn $45,500 a year -- up from the last year's starting salary of $43,000 and $36,000 the year before, as the result of School Board action Thursday.

The increase is projected to put the district's starting salary among top starting salaries paid in Arkansas' more than 200 school districts, Little Rock district leaders reported to the board.

Salaries for Little Rock's more experienced teachers will be increased by the same increase in daily rate of pay as that being provided for new teachers.

The School Board approved the raises at a meeting during which it also voted in support of Superintendent Jermall Wright's proposal to use federal American Rescue Plan funds for employee retention incentives over two school years. The proposal, which calls for retention incentives of $500 to $1,500 per semester, will now go to the district's personnel policy committees for consideration before the School Board can take a final vote.

A beginning teacher with a master's degree will earn $48,999, according to the newly approved teacher salary schedule. And a district teacher who has at least 21 years in the system and a master's degree plus 30 additional college hours will earn $76,995 to $85,100 -- depending on the length of the teacher's work year that can range from 9.25 to 10.25 months a year.

In addition to across-the-board raises, the district's teacher salary schedule includes a 2% step increase for each completed year of experience until teachers "top out" at 21 years of experience. Topped-out teachers are to receive a $2,000 stipend. District teachers can also receive a 2.5% increase for attaining additional college course work.

Non-teaching employees -- support staff -- are receiving a previously approved 2.95% step increase for their additional year of work experience.

The raises for licensed teachers make up "phase two" of a three-year comprehensive compensation plan approved by the board almost a year ago.

That plan -- which calls for the beginning teacher salary to hit $48,000 in the 2023-24 school -- includes a provision that the anticipated compensation has to be approved annually to ensure that the state's second-largest district can afford it.

This year's employee compensation plan will cost about $7.1 million, Kelsey Bailey, the district's chief deputy for finance and operations, said.

The board's approval comes after some hesitation earlier this summer as to whether the district would be able to carry out the second year of the plan because of shortfalls in projected local revenue to the district.

However, district leaders sent to the School Board members for Thursday's meeting "certification for fiscal sustainability for board approval."

School Board President Greg Adams called the raises "encouraging news" after the board delayed approval in June because of concerns about lagging local tax collections.

Bailey thanked the board for the few extra months to finish out the past fiscal year, evaluate revenues and transition in a new superintendent before committing the money to raises.

"That was worthy of this delay," he said.

The raises for the district's 1,685 teachers this year will likely be in the Sept. 15 paychecks, Bailey said, but that won't include amounts of the raise that are retroactive to the July 1 start of the fiscal year. That will be distributed later, he said.

Board member Jeff Wood, who made the motion for approving the raises, noted that when the district first developed the three-year comprehensive pay plan, the $48,000 starting salary in year three would have been the top starting salary in the state. There are now districts paying $50,000 to start.

"This is an arms race," Wood said about the competition for teachers in the state.

In regard to the retention incentives to be paid over two years, Wright said the plan came as the result of the Arkansas Legislative Council's call earlier this summer for districts to use special federal money for their employees.

The Little Rock proposal calls for paying teachers a $1,000 incentive in each semester this school year and $1,500 per semester next school year, for a total of $5,000. Full-time support staff would get $500 a semester this school year and $750 per semester in 2023-24, for a total of $2,500.

Wright said the district's plan enables the district to pursue previously made plans for using the money as well as paying the retention incentives that will cost about $15 million.

Wood said he is nervous that the district is in jeopardy of failing to fully invest the unprecedented special funding in academic improvements.

"I don't want to miss this opportunity," he said. "I want desperately to see that the decisions we make actually accomplish that."

Wright responded that the district has the money to do what it wants to do with the federal funding in addition to the employee incentive plan. He said he would not have brought forward the incentive plan if not for the intervention of state lawmakers -- but that the bonus can be beneficial.

"We thought this would be a way to show our teachers and staff that we really do care about the services and supports they provide our kids and our district, and to boost morale and culture across our organization that will pay off -- along with other things we are doing -- with better performance," he said.

Print Headline: Little Rock district board votes to raise starting teacher pay to $45,500


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