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North Little Rock School District weighs teacher salaries under state law

New LEARNS Act dictates minimum starting pay, raises by Paige Eichkorn | May 1, 2023 at 7:20 a.m.
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The North Little Rock School District is preparing for how the Arkansas LEARNS Act will affect its teacher salary schedule for the coming school year.

Funding for the minimum starting salary of $50,000 and a $2,000 raise to all other positions for the 2023-24 school year will be provided by the Arkansas Department of Education on July 1.

Superintendent Greg Pilewski said the North Little Rock School District is going to "freeze" its salary schedule as it is for the moment due to "anticipated changes."

Arkansas lawmakers earlier this year adopted the 145-page Arkansas LEARNS Act that Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders had proposed as a way to revamp prekindergarten through 12th grade education.

The new multi-part law calls for the minimum teacher salary to be $50,000 in the coming school year -- up from what was the state minimum of $36,000.

Additionally, Sanders' signature law authorizes the establishment of transformation contracts between poorly performing public school districts and third-party organizations such as charter schools. It expands the use of taxpayer money for private school tuition and supplies, requires the retention of some third graders who struggle to read, and mandates 75 hours of community service as a requirement for high school graduation. It also repealed the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and the Public Employees Fair Hearing Act.

LEARNS stands for literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking and safety.

On April 20, the North Little Rock School Board approved a draft 2023-24 certified salary schedule.

It accommodates a $50,000 starting salary for teachers with no experience, $50,000 for all current certified employees in the 2022-23 school year earning less than $48,000 based on the current salary schedule placement and $2,000 in raises for all current certified employees in the 2022-23 school year earning $48,000 or more based on the current salary schedule placement, according to a document provided to School Board members.

The district will determine a new base salary for any current certified employee receiving a master's, specialist or doctorate degree or earning hours to qualify "for a lane change" on the 2022-23 salary schedule by Jan. 31, according to the document. They will be placed at the appropriate lane on the 2022-23 salary schedule or the appropriate Arkansas LEARNS increase to meet salary requirements.

Stipends that are flat amounts will remain the same, according to the document.

The "Responsibility Index Values ... will remain flat" based on the 2022-23 amounts.

"Indices will be modified to affordable levels when a future salary schedule is approved," according to the agenda documents.

For positions that are on extended contracts, the current placement on the 2022-23 salary schedule plus the Arkansas LEARNS Act increase will be used to calculate the value for those days.

The district asked the School Board to approve these measures to meet the Arkansas LEARNS Act and so it can generate employee contracts. Officials said they would work with the district's Personnel Policies Committee "to draft a future salary schedule after all state funding is known and more information is available."

From what Pilewski understands, the intent of the law is to "do away with salary lanes" and for certified employees to be paid based on performance, rather than level of education.

"If that's the case, then there's going to have to be a lot that is examined around the teacher evaluation process -- licensed evaluation process -- because how would you determine how somebody would get performance pay, if you don't go back and look at how are they evaluated? How's that evaluated directly tied to student achievement?"

Pilewski said he heard from a few veteran teachers who were frustrated by the law because of how many years they committed to teaching, only to receive a small raise and see other new teachers start out at a higher pay rate than they did.

"It's going to be a shift, but if the shift is about a focus on student learning, and about performance, then, I'm certainly all in favor of that," he added.

The law does not currently cover classified personnel like bus drivers, cafeteria employees or custodians.

"We want to do something equally for them and we value them as well," Pilewski said. "So we're just trying to figure that out."

Another goal for the district is to make sure its second graders are set up to read proficiently by the end of third grade.

"We're trying to target that now, our current second graders, making sure all those that are not performing, they're getting into summer school, getting them tutoring, so they can hit that benchmark come next year," Pilewski said. "But rules haven't been written around that. What's that look like? That's just one of many components of the law."

Brian Brown, chief financial officer for the district, said he attended a training session for Certified Arkansas School Business Officials and the Arkansas Department of Education suggested districts look at different salary schedules going forward.

"The traditional educational steps across the right and experience steps going down, they said that's not required any further by law, and they suggested that we looked at different funding structures for salaries, but again, we're still waiting on rules and [regulations]," he said. "I'm sure they'll develop those and come out, but everybody's sort of flying blind this first year."

Print Headline: NLRSD weighs teacher salaries under state law


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