An ongoing staff shortage at Norfolk Public Schools has prompted administrators to reevaluate its wages for hourly classified staff, which has been a leading concern among applicants.
The board of education passed the 2021-22 budget during its meeting Monday, which included a $2.54 per hour pay raise for all hourly classified staff.
Bill Robinson, associate superintendent, said administrators knew the district had to start matching competitive wages for this group of employees, which includes positions like paraprofessionals or bus drivers.
Over the past several years, NPS has annually made percentage increases to the base starting wages of hourly employees using the same percentage that certified employees — such as teachers — received in their total packages.
Robinson said this system normally kept district wages competitive until the COVID-19 pandemic. Many local employers raised their base wages to $15 or more per hour to help address a widespread staff shortage.
“This has become very common in our community and has put our district in a situation where we are not able to fill positions or keep people because of our current compensation structure,” Robinson said.
The change will be reflected for all hourly employees starting Sunday, Sept. 19.
Before the new budget was approved, several district positions were offered at a base wage under $15 per hour.
The lowest base wages were “Para 1” and “Secretary 1” positions at around $13.30 per hour with a bachelor’s degree, but about $15.80 per hour with the increase, according to school board documents. There are more than three different levels of base wages for these positions.
“Custodial/Maintenance 1” received $16.38 per hour with a bachelor’s degree and will get $18.92. Bus drivers also made $19.26 per hour as a base wage across all education levels — now they make $21.80.
The total cost for this in the 2021-22 budget will be $1 million, in addition to the $935,374 negotiated increase for other employees including teachers.
“Our classified staff are critical to everything we do in our district,” Robinson said to the board Monday night. “I feel strongly that we need to do this.”
Another change the upcoming budget will bring is a tax levy reduction. Board members discussed and approved the levy of $1.08 per $100 of assessed valuation. This is 5 cents lower than last year’s levy.
This includes a move of 5 cents from the district’s building levy fund to the general fund, which will address a large deficit of state aid that struck this year’s budget. The state decreased NPS’ aid by $2.46 million, and the levy fund change will make up about $1.7 million of this loss.
It also marks the end of any existing debt for the district, said Jami Jo Thompson, school superintendent.
“We will be paying off all of our debt, which is unheard of for a school district of our size,” she said.
NPS property itself increased by 2.46%. Property tax requests for this year are projected to be $31,314,541, which is $460,723 less than last year.
“Overall, we think this is a good budget,” Robinson said. “I feel good about it. Our fiscal position is still strong, and I highly support this budget.”
The Norfolk Public Schools Board of Education met for its monthly meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the central administration office, 512 Phillip Ave.
The meeting lasted 3 hours, 35 minutes.
Board members present: Jake Claussen, Sandy Wolfe, Tammy Day, Jenna Hatfield-Waite and Brenda Carhart.
Others in attendance: Three from the media, several district administrators and more than 30 from the public.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
— The board approved the 2021-22 district budget and tax request.
— LeAnn Widhalm was selected to fill the board’s vacant seat.
— Members approved a $2.54 per hour pay increase to all employees’ hourly rates.
— Approved the 2021-22 NPS budget.
— Approved the 2021-22 tax resolution.
— Interviewed and appointed a new member to the NPS Board of Education.
— Approved the submission of the proposed ARP/ESSER III grant.
— Approved the hourly classified staff pay proposal.
— Reaffirmed board policies 5001-12 related to students.
FUTURE MEETINGS: The next meeting of the board of education will be Thursday, Sept. 23, at noon. The next regular meeting will be Monday, Oct. 11, at 5:30 p.m.