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School board votes to raise district pay

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news River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

By a vote of 3-2, the Board of Education voted to raise the salaries of a majority of Hudson School District employees to bring them closer to the median salary of other school districts of similar size across the state and in the Twin Cities metro area.

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The vote allocated that $441,577 be divided this school year over three groups of employees:

--$425,825 to teachers, coordinators, counselors, psychologists, custodians, therapists, specialists, secretaries and other paraprofessionals.

--$11,664 in nutrition service salaries

--$4,088 for school age care supervisors and employees.

District personal director Nancy Sweet said the move was being recommended by the administration as a result of a market study commissioned by the board to see how Hudson wages stacked up against similar districts in Wisconsin and in the Twin Cities. In the majority of cases, salaries in Hudson were lower than the median salaries in other districts.

Sweet said the recommendation would move employee wages to or toward the median but not the top salary level. Sweet added that numerous classifications of Hudson staff "are below the middle, some at or near, and a few are over middle (median)."

The recommended raises do not bring all employees to that median salary. The money budgeted this year only allows for a salary adjustment up to 40 percent of the median salary at each job classification.

Teachers at base, master and the top were all below median.

No increases would go to those already at or above the median level for their job.

Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten said that prior to Act 10, the new state law that cut the district's contribution to the state retirement fund on behalf of an employee and allowed for the bidding for employee health insurance, Hudson compensation was more competitive.

"But things changed with Act 10. In the past our total teacher compensation -- benefits and salary -- was comparable to what was happening in Minnesota. Benefits were higher in Wisconsin and salaries were higher in Minnesota. As result of 10, investment by district in benefits came down considerably and left salaries lower for our teachers. This move will make us more comparable with compensation in Minnesota.

Director of Financial Services Tim Erickson said that the money to pay the increases is already part of the 2012-2013 budget and is over and above the 2.66 percent cost of living raise for all employees approved in December.

Sweet said the plan would take employees toward the median. "Not all the way but it is a start."

Sweet added that the superintendent's salary is not included in the plan as that is negotiated directly by her with the board. There will also be no adjustment in the salary of the communications coordinator as that was addressed last fall.

Bowen-Eggebraaten said "I believe all our employees need to be at the median. But when we look at the (state's) biennial budget, and the uncertainty of what that will be, we can't guarantee when we will be able to bridge that gap. That is a future decision of the board. But this plan shows we are working to toward that goal and hope to get there."

Board member Brian Bell said that he understood the goal of the plan but questioned the timing of it. "Against the backdrop of the economy, we did salary freeze to avoid layoffs and to keep class sizes down. We have a commitment to invest in programs and providing teachers collaboration time. I would be interested to know the class sizes in these districts that are paying more. They may be above us in salary but what other things do they have. This is the wrong time to make a market adjustment in the overall picture."

Board member Sandy Gehrke agreed and called this an inopportune time to raise salaries. "Just because we have this money in the budget doesn't mean we have to spend it... I will vote no on the concept... If we don't use the money, it goes back into the general fund or maybe we can return it to taxpayers."

Board member Pat German supported the plan. "We have asked our teachers and principals to do a lot and we know our kids are receiving an education better than it was. We have put a lot of time and money into getting this result. If teachers are going to move on because wages are better somewhere else, other districts could take our teachers. What do we want to do -- lose our teachers and then spend more to train new teachers? Teachers should be able to afford to live in the district they teach in. They deserve that."

Board member Lynn Robson also supported the plan. "I don't know how we are going to catch up if we don't start now -- we budgeted for it, and we can now make up some of that difference. I don't want to come back to taxpayers down the road and say that we need even more money because we are losing teachers."

Bowen-Eggebraaten told the board that the primary way students are served is by the district's teachers and other employees. "It would be short-sighted of us to think that our staff and the results they are achieving with our students are not worth the median when we have the money in the budget."

"I understand that people are struggling. Our staff is struggling as well. What will the impact be if we lose teachers, administrators and staff to across the river? In most cases we are not even asking for them to be paid the median. And the public I speak with do care about what our staff is paid. Money is in the budget."

Board members Tom Holland and Mark Kaisersatt were not at the meeting but board member Dan Tjornehoj said both endorsed the plan, Holland adding that he wished the district could do more.

Said Tjornehoj, "This is a laudable goal. I'm not sure we will ever get to a super robust period, but it is something we should work toward -- to get to the median and get competitive. I know it is a struggle but if budget allows, we should make inroads, not there at 40 percent but start working toward that goal."

Bell and Gehrke voted no. Robson, German and Tjornehoj voted yes.

The comparative information on most employee groups was gathered by the district's human services office. An outside consulting firm conducted the research on administration positions.

For more information about the salary compensation study and the new wage plan call (715) 377-3700 or go online at www.hudson.k12.wi.us.

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