The Blair Community Schools Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved wage increases for classified staff, including paraprofessionals, building secretaries and custodians, after a report showed the district fell significantly below other schools of similar size in pay.
“Our classified staff works with our kids every single day,” Supt. Randy Gilson said. “It's important to me, it's important to you, it's important to our community and our teachers to compensate them fairly.”
“I think it's overdue,” board President Kari Loseke added.
Paraprofessionals will receive a $3 per hour increase, raising the starting wage from around $9 to $12, which is the average for the other schools studied in the array.
Building secretaries will receive a $3.40 per hour increase, while custodians will see between $1 to $3 per hour increase.
The increase will be effective for hours starting Dec. 30. It will cost the district $103,000 for the remainder of the school year and $190,000 annually.
Even with the increase, Gilson said the district will still be able to save money and allow for funds for other projects in the capital forecast.
“If we get valuation increases of a percentage or two, which we should, and the funding formula stays the same, then you can see quite a nice gap,” he said. “That gap lets us put money into the building fund and depreciation fund.”
The district is also outperforming this school year's budget by $400,000 and continues to add savings through some attrition, Gilson said. As an example, he said, the district is saving $60,000 by not replacing three school secretary positions.
The low classified staff wages were becoming a concern as it had become difficult to fill positions.
Deerfield Primary Principal Leon Haith, who also serves as director student services for the district, said there are eight open paraprofessional positions. But due to the low hourly wage, the district hasn't received applications.
Parents, Haith said, had been asking questions.
“We just don't have enough boots on the ground,” Haith said.
Parent Bridget Aschoff, whose preschool-aged daughter has special needs, addressed the board with her concerns.
“With the constant turnover, it's just not good for our kids, it's not good for our teachers,” she said. “That's when they're going to start experiencing burnout.”
While paraprofessionals, school building secretaries and custodians will see an increase, bus drivers will not. The study showed bus drivers were compensated fairly in comparison to the other schools. Pay for bus paraprofessionals was inconclusive since only one other district had such positions.
Gilson said he is in the process of creating a classified staff action plan, which will provide the district guidelines for staffing classified employees to continue to provide them equitable pay.
Schools used for the comparison array included Ralston, Plattsmouth, Norris, Arlington, Seward, Beatrice, Bennington, Waverly, Crete and South Sioux City.
Four of the 11 schools — Bennington, Norris, Blair and Waverly — had the lowest per pupil spending in Nebraska last year. The other seven were in the top 50 lowest per pupil spending last year, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.
Blair district, education association approve contract
The Blair Community Schools Board of Education and the Blair Education Association (BEA) have approved a negotiated agreement for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.
BEA President Jennifer Towle and Board President Kari Loseke signed the agreement Tuesday.
The base salary for the current contract is $34,975. A total of 162 employees are full-time equivalent certified staff under contract for 186 days.
The base salary for the 2020-21 contract year will increase $900 based on a 186-day contract.
For the 2021-22 contract year, the base salary will be $36,600.