Friday, July 10, 2015

TOP STORY >> Disparity in pay to teachers remains key issue

Leader senior staff writer

The most any Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District teacher — even one with a doctorate and 17 years experience — will earn when the district detaches in the 2016-17 school year is $55,500, unless more money becomes available and the board increases the salary schedule.

That same teacher working for the Pulaski County Special School District would earn $69, 206 or more.

The JNP salary schedule approved 5-1 Tuesday night does not reward teachers for advancing beyond a master’s degree with 15 hours of credit and 28 years of experience.


If the two school districts had a single seniority center, advanced-degree teachers working at schools this year that will become part of Jacksonville-North Pulaski in 2016-17 could bump teachers with less seniority working for PCSSD and hold onto their higher-paying jobs when JNP detaches.

But PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess proposed, and state Education Commissioner Johnny Key approved, a two-seniority center, so for this year, Jacksonville-area teachers can only bump within that same future district.

Otherwise, Guess said, he feared that PCSSD would end up with a large number of highly paid teachers trying to protect their standard of living. That would be to the detriment of PCSSD budget at a time the district is trying to escape the sanctions of being in fiscal distress.


This is a bad deal for the high-end Jacksonville teachers, who made life and lifestyle decisions based on those salaries. If they bought a house and got a mortgage based on making $65,000 a year, and now they make $10,000 to a year less, that could be a serious problem.

“We value their experience,” said JNP chief of staff Phyllis Stewart, “but we understand if you’ve become accustomed to a standard of living.”

“It was the intent of the board to give PCSSD employees in these schools as much time as possible to make those decisions toward their future,” she said.

Tony Wood, in his first few days as JNP superintendent, said he wants to give the teachers all the money he can, but, right now, there’s little money and a lot of uncertainty.


He said the board would revisit the salary issue after the three-quarter year enrollment numbers this year for the schools that will become JNPSD. But they simply can’t compete with PCSSD for the most experienced and educated teachers.

“Not knowing what our revenue stream will be, we have to be cautious, stay on sound footing and maintain financial stability,” Stewart said.

The current budget is predicated on an enrollment of 4,000, but it could be as high as 4,400 students, which multiplied by the $6,500 minimum foundation aid per student from the state would increase revenues by about $2.5 million.

By way of example, Leader staff writer Rick Kron teaches math full time at Warren Dupree Elementary School. His students have won national competitions on economic issues.

“With health benefits, at PCSSD, I’m at $66,719, but if I’m hired by JNP, salary and benefits will total $54,480,” he said Friday.

CUT OF $12,000

That’s a cut of more than $12,00 a year.

Can he afford it?

“I’m going to have to look at it real close,” he said. “Can I afford it? No. Do I want to go elsewhere? No.”

Kron doesn’t have a mortgage, but he’s still paying off student loans.

He said he’ll give the board the benefit of the doubt — that this is all they believe they can afford, and that, if they find more money, they’ll pay better.

If the district does get increased enrollment numbers next March and can increase pay, that will be “cutting it real close,” he said. “That’s about when other districts begin hiring.”

His truck is closing in on 300,000 miles, but he doesn’t know if he can afford a new one.

JNP’s going to have quality teachers, he said, “but not enough.”

Kron also cited a national study that found half of all new teachers quit the profession within five years.


The new district will be in good shape to attract some of the best newer teachers, with a starting salary of $38,000 — nearly $4,000 a year more than PCSSD and more than all local districts except Cabot, which starts at $40,575 this year.

Not only will JNP pay experienced teachers much less than PCSSD currently pays some of the same teachers, but the monthly contribution toward health insurance and other fringe benefits will be only about half as much.

PCSSD puts $300 a month toward each teacher’s fringe benefits, while JNP has committed to put “at least” $153 — the required state minimum — toward health insurance and $12 a month toward dental insurance.

The PCSSD fringe benefits and salary schedule were negotiated over several years with the district’s two unions, which were decertified when PCSSD was mired in fiscal distress and the state took over.

Bryant paid $150 for fringe benefits and Searcy $177, according to Stewart. Those are neighboring districts with similar enrollment sizes.

Top pay will be about $6,000 less than Cabot, $14,000 less than PCSSD and Little Rock and about $9,000 less than North Little Rock, but most of those schools are considerably larger than JNP and have deeper pockets.