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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Amy Holland, teacher at Central Park Elementary School in Bentonville, helps students Tuesday write a report on about their bubble-blowing research.

BENTONVILLE -- Raises likely are coming to the School District's employees this year in the form of a 2.25 percent increase to their salary schedules.

The raise will cost the district about $2.8 million this fiscal year, according to Janet Schwanhausser, finance director.

How salaries compare

For Northwest Arkansas’ five biggest school districts, here are the 2017-18 starting salaries for teachers with only a bachelor’s degree. Bentonville’s figure is pending official approval by the School Board later this month.

• Springdale: $47,266

• Bentonville: $45,714

• Fayetteville: $45,310

• Rogers: $44,750^

• Siloam Springs: $40,000

^- Rogers, in addition to this, is giving a $1,000 bonus this year.

Source: Staff report

The district of about 16,900 students expects to spend a total of $170.8 million this school year.

Checks will be issued late this semester making up the difference between what employees have received this fiscal year and what they would have received with the raise. New pay rates will show up in employees' checks after Jan. 1, Schwanhausser said.

The School Board gave administrators its approval Monday to move forward with processing the change, which will be retroactive to July 1. The board won't vote to approve the raise until its next meeting Oct. 23 because the change must first be presented to personnel policy committees.

Schwanhausser requested the board's approval through an "unofficial vote" Monday because preparing for the raise requires a lot of work and she wanted to get started as soon as possible. The board unanimously agreed she should proceed with the work.

While salary schedules are getting a 2.25 percent boost, most employees will actually see a 3.55 percent increase to their salaries from last school year because of the annual step increases that are part of those schedules.

Currently, a teacher with only a bachelor's degree earns between $44,708 and $56,464, depending on years of experience. The high end of the range is reached after a teacher has accumulated 15 years of experience.

The Rogers School District, which pays teachers at levels similar to Bentonville's, will provide most of its employees a $1,000 bonus this school year. Rogers teachers with only a bachelor's degree start at $44,750 and top out at $62,687 after 23 years.

This is the first time in three years Bentonville has increased salary schedules. Schwanhausser's projection of the raise's long-term impact shows the district's fund balance remaining relatively strong. While the balance dips below 14 percent of the operating budget by 2020, the percentage steadily increases after that.

Travis Riggs, Bentonville's board president, said the board continually strives to maintain competitive salaries.

"We're excited to reward our teachers as they continue to raise the bar and exceed our expectations," Riggs said. "All our thanks to them for what they do for our children and community."

Debbie Jones, Bentonville's superintendent, said the district has long desired to get to this point for its teachers, whom she called the "backbone" of the district.

"We also realize this is an important recruiting tool to continue to attract the absolute best to Bentonville Schools," Jones said.

Sarah McKenzie, executive director of the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas, said raising teacher pay can help to attract teachers to a school district.

"But a district like Bentonville already has so many applicants for their open positions that they should be able to pick high-quality teachers anyway," McKenzie said.

Raising teacher pay across the board does not make better teachers, she said.

"I assume Bentonville had some evidence they needed to do that, because it's a big investment. And it's a continuous investment," McKenzie said.

Factors impacting how much a particular school district pays its teachers include the cost of living in the region and the district's student-to-teacher ratio, she said.

"It's a lot more expensive to live in Bentonville than it is to live in other parts of the state," McKenzie said.

Average teacher salaries among the state's 236 school districts for the 2014-15 school year ranged from $35,132 to $59,732, according to a study by the Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research that was released last year. Rogers, Springdale, Bentonville and Fayetteville all ranked among the top five in average teacher salary.

Bentonville was paying far more than what nearby districts were paying for bus drivers a few years ago, so some Bentonville drivers won't see a raise this year.

Officials allowed drivers already working for the district to remain on what's called schedule A, which pays up to $28.22 per hour. All drivers hired subsequently fell under schedule B, which pays up to $20.75 an hour.

The 69 drivers on schedule A aren't eligible for this year's raise, though they may still see a step increase, Schwanhausser said.

Schwanhausser originally included a 1 percent raise for all staff members in the 2017-18 budget the board approved last month. She said at the time, however, she was waiting for a firmer picture of student enrollment before making a final recommendation on the size of the raise.

Eric White, board vice president, thanked Schwanhausser for her work on the raise.

"This is a good thing. Thank you," White said. "This is a really positive step for us."

NW News on 10/08/2017

Print Headline: Bentonville School Board close to adopting pay raise

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