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Little Rock School Board approves 2022-23 budget, works toward $5,000 retention incentive for employees

by Cynthia Howell | September 25, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK ‚ The Little Rock School District will send a 2022-23 budget plan to the Arkansas Department of Education by the end of next week after the School Board unanimously approved it Thursday night.

The School Board, which now includes newly appointed member Joyce Wesley to replace Jeff Wood, approved the budget at a meeting in which it also:

• Took steps to provide all employees with a retention incentive of $5,000, half to be paid in November and the other half in November 2023.

• Authorized the use of $1.2 million in federal covid-19 funding to be distributed to elementary schools for after-school academic support programs.

• Returned to the district's Certified Personnel Policies Committee for further work the committee's proposal that the district continue to provide employees with 10 days of covid-19 sick leave in addition to the traditional sick leave.

Jermall Wright, the district's new superintendent, called the 2022-23 budget plan one that "fully supports the mission of the Little Rock School District and our commitment to advancing student learning for each student in every school."

The district is projected to have total local, state and federal revenues of $339,151,094 this year as compared to $336,936,756 in actual revenues for the just-ended 2021-22 school year.

The state's second-largest district of about 22,000 students is projecting expenditures this school year of $347,931,151, which has the potential to cause the district to draw more than $7 million from its savings or fund balance account, to meet expenses.

Kelsey Bailey, the district's chief deputy for finance and operations, told the board that any draw on the fund balances this school year will be the result of receiving state categorical funds last school year that won't be spent until this school year.

Categorical funds are restricted to particular expenses. During the pandemic school year, there were fewer expenses for those particular programs, Bailey said, adding that the revenue received last school year is budgeted for spending this year.

Categorical funding is for services for students who are not native English speakers or for students who are assigned to alternative learning environments because of their failure to succeed in a traditional classroom. Enhanced Student Achievement is another large categorical state fund that the Little Rock district uses in part for its pre-kindergarten classes. During the past two pandemic school years, the district's enrollment of prekindergarten children was cut in half but is now increasing, Bailey said.

Bailey offered assurances to the board that the district's savings that are not earmarked for specific programs exceed $25.9 million.

The budget includes step increases for experience for all employees, including an across-the-board raise for teachers -- incorporating a starting teacher salary of $45,500. It also includes the continued contribution of $275 a month toward an employee's health insurance costs -- an amount that will go to $300 a month in January.

The district has 3,170 employees this year, including 1,697 in teacher positions. That is down from 3,284 last year and a high of 3,993 employees in 2015, according to district documents.

The board also on Thursday finalized in a 6-2 vote a plan to use a part of its federal covid-19 relief money to give support-service employees a retention incentive of $5,000, half of which will be paid this coming November and the other half in November 2023.

The board then voted 5-3 to offer the same $5,000 employment retention incentive -- paid over two school years -- to the district's certified employees -- primarily teachers. That proposal will now go to the district's Personnel Policies Committee for certified staff to be approved or rejected. Those voting for the motion were board members Greg Adams, Michael Mason, Norma Johnson, Leigh Ann Wilson and Evelyn Callaway. Those opposed were Vicki Hatter, Sandrekkia Morning and Ali Noland.

The certified personnel committee had earlier proposed to the School Board that the $5,000 be paid in one school year -- $2,500 in November and $2,500 next April.

Wright, the superintendent, argued against that. The payment divided over two school years make the money a true employee retention incentive and not a bonus, he said.

Wright argued that a bonus funded with the federal covid-19 relief money would put the district at risk of being audited for violating directives that the special federal funding not be used for employee bonuses.

The School Board also approved using $1.2 million in federal covid-19 relief money for after-school academic support programs for elementary school pupils. The students will be recommended for the two- or three-day a week programs based on test data and teacher recommendations. Schools will design their own programs and apply for funds that will cover transportation, snacks, supplies and personnel costs.

Print Headline: Year’s budget OK’d by Little Rock School Board


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