Something To Consider
By Alex Saitta
June 30, 2013
About six years ago, in a school board meeting I said the school districtís salary structure was unaffordable. Annette Craig was the personnel director at the time, and she hasnít been in that position probably since 2006 or 2007. I remember seeing her in the audience the night I made the statement.
In my opinion, many of the district employees had a look on their face of disbelief. Others took it as me wanting to cut pay. No. My point was this is a future reality and we need to be ready for it. I said something along the lines of, the district will not be able to afford all these employees, at these pay levels, and with all these automatic pay increases for much longer.
The school system pay structure is primarily based on years of service, and most of the employees are supposed to get a pay increase with each passing year. This is called a step increase. The rest of the employees received a step every few years. The state mandates the step increase be given to certified teachers, but the school district elects to give some kind of step increase to all employees. So not only is the state system too generous for the revenue stream, but the district's policies make it even more generous.
All employees were also given annual cost of living increases or a COLA. The state mandates the COLA be given to all employees, and it determines the rate. The teacher COLA I believe is set equal to the inflation rate in the southeast.
What I foresaw was the payroll demands were about to clash with revenue that was about to drop down to a weaker growth path, so I said the pay structure was unaffordable.
After revenue started to decline in 2008-09, the annual COLA increases were not granted by the legislature and the state gave school districts the option to give a step increase. Our district did not give a step increase in 2010-11 or 2011-12. Additionally, some positions were eliminated to reduce payroll costs.
Because of measures taken by the school board and the district administration, and a firming economy, the 3-year string of lay-offs ended. There was a 2% increase for all employees and a step increase for teachers in 2012-13. Teachers will get a step increase in 2013-14. No one else will get a raise. However, the days of doing it all for everyone ó hiring, paying a step increase and COLAs year in and year out are over in my opinion.
Choices Will Have To Be Made:
According to state law the COLA and step increases are mandated. Like I wrote above, the last few years the state has overridden the law and given school boards the option to give their employees the step increase or not give it. COLAís have been give some years and not others.
My belief is revenue growth will remain low the remainder of this decade. In some years the state will give pay raises. In others it will not. Sometimes it will give the school boards an option to raise pay or not. School boards around the state will have to make a choice, protect positions or give pay raises.
For instance, Judy Edwards (Easley trustee) made a motion this year to raise the student-teacher ratio from 21.5 to 22.5 (putting more students in each class and eliminating about 25 classroom teaching positions). Her aim was to generate savings to give teachers an additional pay raise. The motion failed by 1 vote. I voted against, opting to protect teaching positions and keep classroom sizes down.
There are other options that can be taken that will take some pressure off the district to eliminate positions not give a pay raise. One of these Iíve discussed at various school board meetings the past two years. My suggestion was met with resistance from the district and some other board members.
School District Policy:
This is from policy GBRIB: Professional Personnel Leaves And Absences:
Annual leave will be granted to professional personnel in permanent positions in this district under the following guidelines: 1 ¼ days of leave for each month of active service. Nine month employees will receive 12 days of leave annually. 10-month employees will receive 13 days annually, 11-month employees receive 14 days annually and 12-month employees will receive 15 days of leave annually at no reduction in salary.
This is a state law, so all state employees are given this number of paid personal leave days each year. (For district employees this is in addition to having all holidays off, Christmas and Easter Recess and some or all of the summer off.)
An elementary school assistant principal is paid for 210 days, from August to the following June. Instead of working 210 days, he has the choice to take up to 13 personal days or work 197 days, and still get paid his full salary.
Each year he is given 13 personal days, and the ones he doesnít use that year accumulate and he carries the cumulative total forward. He can accumulate up to 135 personal days and carry them to retirement.
Letís say our AP is ready to retire and has accumulated 135 personal days. At retirement, the employee will use 90 days to extend his years of service by 3 months, hence boosting his monthly retirement check. The remaining 45 days will be cashed in this way.
The school board policy states an employee will receive full pay for each day of cumulative annual leave not taken, not to exceed 45 days. This is not a state mandate or law, but a perk granted by the school board of Pickens County.
Realize the AP has already been paid for those 45 days in the year he didnít take them off. The district pays the employee again at his ful daily rate. If that assistant principal is making $70,000 and working 210 days, his daily rate is $333. Forty-Five days times $333 is a $15,000 bonus the day he retires.
Heck, the Superintendent is also able to reap this bonus. His or hers would be in the range of $22,000.
On top of it, most employees have a very generous calendar. Except for the Superintendent or the head of operations, most donít work a full year. There are 260 weekdays in the year. There are 10 holidays, so the typical American worker starts with a 250 day calendar. Most get 10 days paid vacation so that knocks their work calendar down to 240 working days. Most get a handful of paid sick days, so the typical full-time employee works from 230 to 235 days a year.
The typical person in the district office starts with a 240 day calendar. That is, 260 days less 5 days off for Easter and the surrounding break, 10 days off for Christmas and New Years and the surrounding break, and the other 5 national holidays that are not in the Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years breaks. Each employee then gets 10 days paid vacation days knocking their calendar down to 230 days. Then they get 14 paid sick days, knocking down their work calendar to 216 days.
No one works Fridays in the summer, not a board policy, but an administration rule, knocking about 12 days off. Thus the typical full-time person works a few days more than 200. If it was up to me, I would have employees work five days a week in the summer.
By the way, if there is only enough work in the summer for 4 days a week, pay employees in the summer for only 4 days a week, and with the savings hire more classroom teachers during the year to give students more personalized time with their teacher.
The Annual Cost:
The bonuses paid for unused personal days cost the school district about $300,000 a year. That money could instead be used to hire 6 teaching positions.
This generous policy was affordable in the past, when the district had the money to hire all the teachers it needed and there was plenty of money to grant annual pay raises. However, that is not the case today. The district has some classrooms with more than 30 students in them.
The Reason For The Bonus:
I understand the reason why a past school board chose to give employees some sort of bonus for the personal days that are not used. In most cases if the person takes the personal day, the district has to hire a substitute. If the assistant principal takes a personal day, a sub is not hired. If a teacher takes a personal day, a substitute teacher must be hired.
To keep the number of personal days that are used to a minimum, the district should give a bonus for not taking personal days. Agreed. However, my contention is the bonus the district gives the employee now ó a full dayís pay when that employee has already been paid for that day in the year he received it ó is excessive.
The average teacher at retirement is paid about $325 a day. At retirement he/she is paid a bonus of about $325 for each of the 45 cumulative personal days brought forward to retirement. It only costs about $70 a day to hire a substitute teacher. Thus, the district is paying a $325 bonus to save $70. The bonus is excessive.
A retiring assistant principal is probably paid about $350 a day at retirement for each personal day not used up to 45 days. If the AP takes a personal day, a substitute is not hired to replace him that day, so there is no additional cost to the district there. Thus, the district is paying a $350 bonus to save $0.
In my opinion, this school board policy should be modified. For all employees who, when they are out, a substitute has to be hired, the bonus should be $200 maximum. If an employee is in a position where a substitute would not be hired if that person was out, then that person should not get a bonus for the days he/ she doesnít use. Like I said, I see no reason why the superintendent should be given a bonus for the personal days he or she doesnít use.
Annually, this would have about $200,000 a year. Instead that money could be used to hire additional teachers, save jobs, plug a deficit or provide a bit of a pay raise.
Iím not trying to be a bad guy here. Iím just facing the reality hitting us in the face, looking to an option that does the least harm.
After five years of this, it should be clear the district doesnít have the revenue stream to keep all its employees AND give annual step and COLA raises AND pay for programs like this retirement bonus.
Something has to be reduced to help make it all work. So far the district has relied on eliminating positions and not paying regular raises. I think this option to reduce the amount of that retirement bonus should be considered as well.