Fort Zumwalt board OKs raises for employees

2012-07-18T10:14:00Z 2012-07-19T09:33:09Z Fort Zumwalt board OKs raises for employeesBy Brian Flinchpaugh >

The salary freeze for Fort Zumwalt employees for the 2012-13 school year has thawed.

Thanks to more state aid than anticipated, the Board of Education Monday night unanimously approved a revised pay plan giving raises to teachers, bus drivers, support staff and administrators. The district had imposed a salary freeze on its 2,200 employees, including 1,300 teachers.

Teachers now will receive an extra step on their salary schedule, amounting to a pay increase averaging about 2.6 percent. The exact amount depends on where an teacher is on the schedule, which is based on longevity. Experienced teachers who no longer have salary steps will receive a 1 percent raise.

Support staff and non-certified administrators will receive a 2.6 percent increase; principals and other certified administrators will receive 1.5 percent. Bus drivers and monitors will be advanced on their hourly wage plan, and those at the top of their schedule will receive a boost of 25 cents per hour.

For now, a salary freeze is in place for the 2013-14 fiscal year but could change depending on the amount of state aid the district receives, said Superintendent Bernard DuBray.

The extra money this year stems oddly enough from the state's inability to fully fund its foundation formula, which dictates the aid schools receive. The Legislature did not provide guidance during this year's session.

School officials worried that funding shortfalls could mean major cuts for districts. The state's annual minimum guarantee to Fort Zumwalt amounts to about 25 percent of its overall revenue, or about $50 million. District officials feared losing $2.5 million to $3 million in state aid for this school year.

Instead, the district was told after the legislative session ended in May that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had the discretion to distribute state money to individual districts.

"It was not going to be the death blow that we thought we were going to get," DuBray told the board.

The district ended up with about $500,000 more in state aid than expected. That prompted discussions with the Fort Zumwalt Education Association, which represents district teachers.

The possible freeze was approved when teachers agreed to a two-year contract in 2010. Last year, teachers received one step up on their salary schedule, amounting to an average raise of about 2.38 percent.

Salaries were going to be frozen for 2012-13 unless an injection of new revenue raised the district's operating fund balance to near 20 percent of its total budget. Teachers would receive another step on the salary schedule if that balance percentage was reached.

The operating fund covers costs of salaries, books, programs and other everyday expenses, and the district has used the balance to cover deficit spending brought on by drops in state funding and local tax revenue.

DuBray said the extra money and an anticipated operating fund balance of 19.6 percent next year was close enough to prompt the board to begin salary discussions with the association this month. Association members approved the salary plan Monday before the board acted. DuBray also recommended pay increases for employees not represented by the association.

Contingency language agreed to by the district and teachers could eliminate the freeze next year. A freeze might not happen if the operating fund balances are at least 20 percent and the Legislature provides more funding to the district. "Hopefully, if the same thing happens we can come back and not freeze them (salaries)," DuBray said.

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