Fithian seeks answers on Kent’s low ranking in teacher salaries
CHESTERTOWN — Tuesday’s meeting of the Kent County Commissioners ended with an unscheduled discussion on school funding and staff salaries. Commissioner Ron Fithian discussed Kent County ranking third-lowest in starting salaries for teachers. The issue was previously raised by Ed Silver, supervisor of human resources for Kent County Public Schools, during the Feb. 21 commissioners meeting. Fithian said that he didn’t understand why the issue wasn’t addressed two years ago, when the district sought an additional $768,000 in county funds to increase salaries. The additional $768,000 was to be part of a $1.6 million funding increase requested by Superintendent Karen Couch and initially approved by the commissioners. The $768,000 was to make up for three missed step increases in staff pay Further budget negotiations with the commissioners led to the district spending down its fund balance — a savings account of sorts — instead of receiving the full $1.6 million increase. Fithian was aided by a chart Tuesday night, mapping the salaries of teachers with master’s degrees, which also showed the teachers’ 2015-2016 salaries. The chart also compared the increase between salaries in percentages, sorting them in ascending steps. Fithian said the largest salary increases were not given to the starting step. “So if you decided to only give step one a 2.1 percent increase, and then some people as much as 10.8 percent increase, you almost have to take responsibility for the fact that it’s low,” Fithian said. “Because you had an opportunity to change it.”
Couch, who was not scheduled on the commissioner’s agenda, responded by saying that the administration did give three step raises to teachers with the allotted funds. Couch said that to adjust the starting salary, the salary schedules also would need to change. She said some steps had no salary increases and to adjust the system would take additional funds. “If we were to cut out all of the dead steps and moved everybody up three steps, then that would have added an- other increase of money that we would have had to ask for, that we could not have sustained,” Couch said. County Attorney Tom Yeager said that it was the Board of Education’s decision to set the priority of where funds are being spent, not the commissioners’. “The decision was to provide three steps to the employees, which we did,” Couch said. “If you want us to do something in addition to that, then we could have asked for additional funds to do that.” Couch said that one of the reasons the county is falling behind in regards to competitive starting salary, is that the district cannot give cost-of-living increases in addition to step increases. She said cost-of-living increases primarily go to staff members who are on the highest steps with no upward mobility. Couch said that in her position as superintendent she could not make a sole decision to increase starting salaries — she needed to confer with union members. “I mean, I understand what you’re saying, and it’s so easy for us to sit here and try and figure it all out, but it’s got to be a joint decision by the union,” Couch said. “I can’t just make that decision in my office and say, ‘I’m going to lop these three off, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’ I don’t have the ability to do that.”
Superintendent Karen Couch talks about salary increases for teachers during the March 6 Kent County Commissioners meeting.