School Board backs one-time bonuses

Size of em­ployee awards un­de­cided as county district rev­enue feeds con­struc­tion

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

Bonuses are in order for Pu­laski County Special School District’s 2,015 full- and part­time em­ploy­ees, the district’s School Board mem­bers gen­er­ally agreed Tues­day night, but de­ter­min­ing the amount re­mains a work in progress.

Pam Fitz­given and Emry Ch­ester­field, lead­ers of the district’s Per­son­nel Poli­cies Com­mit­tees for cer­ti­fied and sup­port-ser­vice em­ployee groups, asked the board to ap­prove one-time awards of $2,500 per em­ployee.

Fitz­given noted that the district teach­ers did not re­ceive a bonus or an across-the-board raise in ei­ther of the past two school years.

“We also rec­og­nize that the district wants to main­tain a fis­cally sound bud­get,” she said. “There­fore we are ask­ing the board to ap­prove a one-time bonus for all cer­ti­fied em­ploy­ees rather than ask for a re­cur­ring salary in­crease.”

Denise Palmer, the district’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, pre­sented the School Board with op­tions of $1,000, $1,250 and $2,500 bonuses for cer­ti­fied em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing teach­ers; and $500, $625, $1,000 and $2,500 awards for sup­port staff.

The $2,500 bonuses for both em­ployee groups would be the most ex­pen­sive op­tion at a cost of $5.88 mil­lion, Palmer said. The least ex­pen­sive would be $1.8 mil­lion for a $1,000 bonus to teach­ers and $500 to the sup­port staff mem­bers.

The cost of any bonus would come at a time when the 12,000-stu­dent district is in the mid­dle of build­ing a new Mills High School in the south­east sec­tion of the district and a new Robin­son Mid­dle School in the west, and con­struc­tion of a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion of Syl­van Hills High School in Sher­wood is im­mi­nent. District lead­ers an­nounced ear­lier this year that the cost of the new Mills school is mil­lions of dol­lars short of the $50 mil­lion the district com­mit­ted to spend­ing in 2014 in fed­eral court to make the school equal to newer schools in pre­dom­i­nantly white ar­eas of the district.

The district has recom­mit­ted to the $50 mil­lion for the new Mills High, which is to open next Au­gust, but money for the em­ployee bonus and for Mills will have to come from the same op­er­at­ing rev­enue pool, Palmer said.

In­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent Jan­ice War­ren said Tues­day that the board may have to de­cide later to is­sue sec­ond-lien bonds as a way to raise be­tween $8 mil­lion and $13 mil­lion to meet the con­struc­tion ex­penses.

Board mem­ber Brian Maune asked for more op­tions, say­ing that he doesn’t want to give dif­fer­ent bonus amounts to dif­fer­ent em­ployee groups. He also asked whether an across-the­board raise would be prefer­able — in part be­cause that would be paid out to em­ploy­ees over time rather than in a lump sum.

Board mem­bers agreed to hold a special meet­ing Nov. 29 on the is­sue.

“I de­sire noth­ing more than bonuses or raises in the fu­ture,” Board mem­ber Eli Keller told the em­ployee-group lead­ers. “My re­luc­tance to say some­thing tonight is be­cause I don’t want us to slide back to the de­ba­cle of be­ing un­der state con­trol.”

The board on Tues­day ap­proved $1.29 mil­lion in ad­di­tion to what was its $37.7 mil­lion build­ing con­tract with Bald­win & Shell Con­struc­tion Co. for the Mills cam­pus. The changes in­clude a new ticket booth at the foot­ball sta­dium, en­hance­ment to the in­door ath­letic fa­cil­ity and the ath­letic plaza, and in­stal­la­tion of stage rig­ging and a drap­ery sys­tem. The build­ing con­tract does not in­clude equip­ment, fur­nish­ings and de­sign costs that are also part of the Mills’ project.

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