RISD employees get 2.5-percent raises

Trustees hope to add additional pay later if state returns funds

After grappling for four months with a plan to set the Rockdale ISD on a long-term “competitive” employee pay schedule, school trustees have passed it up, for now.

Board members, meeting Monday in regular session, instead opted for an across-the-board 2.5-percent increase this year.

But all seven board members expressed a clear desire to do more and said they’d revisit employee pay when, and if, a hoped for “windfall” of RISD assessments overpaid to the state is returned to the district later in the school term.

Also Monday, trustees and administrators exchanged the verbal equivalent of “high fives” over this year’s state accountability ratings which saw RISD meet all state standards and the juniorhigh campus earn a “distinction” in one area.

SALARIES—In April the board began a discussion with the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) to compile a longterm salary schedule designed to bring Rockdale ISD pay more into line with similar-sized districts.

The plan was presented to the board in July but tabled for another meeting with TASB planners after questions arose concerning its details.

Marla Wallace, RISD chief financial officer, recommended adoption of the TASB plan, funding for which is included in the 2013-14 budget.

She also presented alternative plans, showing one-time pay hikes of 2, 2.5 and 3 percent for board study.

DEFICIT—There was an immediate consensus among board members to increase pay in some form. “Let’s make some difference tonight for our people,” board president Lee Jenkins said.

He said salaries had been essentially frozen for the past three years, although lump sum one-time-only payments have been granted.

But trustees also noted the district’s new budget is anticipated to have a $2 million deficit and were wary of committing to longterm, multi-year expenditures.

Board member Michelle Lehmkuhl noted that the TASB salary schedule might commit the district to a half-million dollar expenditure in 2014-15.

She made a motion to accept the 2.5-percent option presented by Wallace. It was seconded by trustee Troy Zinn and Jenkins then asked individual board members for their thoughts.

Trustee Kent Bowermon said he felt something like the TASB salary schedule would have to be adopted eventually by Rockdale ISD.

But Bowermon said he didn’t feel comfortable asking Rockdale to be in the forefront of districts adopting such plans.

“In the train going down the tracks, I don’t want to be in the engine,” he said. “But then I also don’t want to be in the caboose lagging behind.”

WILD CARD—Interim Supt. Donald Denbow pointed out that whatever the board adopted Monday “would not prevent you from doing some things later for the employees.”

Trustees asked Wallace about the chances of the district again receiving a rebate portion of “recapture” funds it originally submitted to the state.

That happened in 2012-13 to the tune of over $1.6 million.

Wallace said she believes the district should again get money back from the state but she recommended the district not count on it until the funds were received.

Several trustees expressed a desire to approve a one-time hike, then revisit employee pay when and if the state “windfall” comes in.

“What about 2.5 percent now and then something more at Christmas, or Thanksgiving,” trustee Lin Perry said.

Lehmkuhl’s motion to grant the one-time 2.5 percent increase passed 7-0.

HIGH FIVES—Board member Wenda Dyer linked the salary increase issue to the positive accountability ratings.

“They’ve (teachers) gotten us out of the hole,” she said.

That was a reference to the 2011 “unacceptable” ratings with which the district had to live for two years, now just a memory.

Pam Kaufmann, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, said the rating redemption was “the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of very dedicated people.”

Kaufmann said the district focused on specif ic areas of improvement. She presented an extensive, data-filled report on the new ratings.

Jenkins noted the district’s scores were “well above” all the state benchmarks.

“We got out of this hole and we don’t want to ever get back in it,” Kaufmann said.

In other business, trustees:

• Hired Keely Reisner as elementary intermediate campus counselor.

• Heard a report on the elementary campus “grab and go” breakfast program. That campus now offers free breakfasts to all students.

• Heard a report on exit-level testing for former and current students who are graduating on the old TAKS testing program.

• Added Denbow’s name as a signatory and authorized representative to a bank account and a statewide investment pool.

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