Years ago in Parsons USD 503, classified staff had a salary schedule as did teachers.

Salaries were based on work level, skill levels required, education required and years an individual dedicated to the district.

When a new superintendent replaced the retiring John Benson, the classified salary schedule was eliminated.

As years passed, pay disparities became a problem and the district had difficulties retaining classified personnel in some positions.

USD 503 Superintendent Lori Ray and Assistant Superintendent Linda Proehl sought to remedy the problems, presenting to the school board this week with a newly designed salary schedule for classified staff to help bring them up to a living wage and eliminate pay disparities.

“We felt like in an effort to attract and retain quality classified staff we wanted to pay a living wage. So we felt like in order to do that we would offer this as a possibility,” Ray said. “This gives regular steps or increments of increase, so people know how much money they would be making if they stayed one year, two or three, etc.”

Board member Jeffrey Quirin said the schedule is similar to what they have for certified staff, showing employees’ classification and how they would be bumped up in pay, rather than former Superintendent Deb Perbeck’s ad hoc method. 

“She would make decisions and make recommendations to the board and there was no systematic system for compensating classified staff. That’s my understanding. As long as I’ve been on the board, we haven’t had one of these,” Quirin said.

Board member Mike Kastle pointed out that the salary schedule was designed to allow a change in the base as well as changes in the increments year-to-year.

“It looks good as long as we can afford it,” Kastle said, looking at the numbers.

“That’s what I worry about,” board member Roger Duroni said. “If you’re on step one there you start at $11 an hour, but if you’ve been here 20 or 30 years, you’re making $23 an hour. I just think it is way too expensive and … then if we have bad years what are we going to do?”

Issue a pay freeze, administrators and other board members said. That was what most districts were required to do for teachers and classified staff when the state cut funding to districts several years back.

Ray said last year the board voted to add $1 an hour for every classified staff member and that cost the district $87,912. 

“What that did, when we sat down and looked at the contracts and the length of time people had been with the district, people that started years ago at less money compared to those who recently started at more money, when you added $1 an hour, all that did was continue that disparity,” Ray said. “So people that had been here the longest were getting paid the least.”

One disparity example is the district pays a summer intern more than it pays a tech person who has been working for a year.

Proehl said maintenance personnel pay in the district showed some of the greatest differences, with some of those longest serving and most experienced earning barely more or less than someone newly hired.

Regardless, Duroni said he thought the district couldn’t afford it.

“So you want to pay a bus driver $28 an hour in the future if he’s down there at the end?” Duroni asked, raising further concerns the board would have no recourse if they approved the schedule and couldn’t afford it.

Board member Joan Thompson said the board has control over the salary schedule, as it is in no way negotiated, and they could freeze pay raises as needed or eliminate the schedule if needed, just as the other board did when Perbeck took her position. 

Proehl referred the board back to the $87,912 cost last year from the $1 across-the-board raise. If the salary schedule was approved, it would initially cost $145,865, but the cost for 2020 would be reduced to $36,923 after resolving the initial pay disparities. 

“So it’s going to cost us this year, but there are some people that when you go through and look at some of these people, they have dedicated 20 years and they aren’t making much more than what a beginning salary person would. They started at maybe $7 an hour and so they’ve been here all those years,” Proehl said.

The two administrators said they used examples from other school districts to determine classifications and looked at current pay for all classified employees to establish the schedule, but it would be up to the board to help lay out the classifications and pay as they see fit.

But they wanted the board members to know that the classified persons work “really, really hard.”

“I think if you are making a marketable wage, or more than you can someplace else, that is going to attract some folks who want come and work and then the expectation of the quality of work is going to be more,” Ray said.

Board member David Ray said that is why they offered the dollar raise last year, but Proehl said that did nothing to address discrepancies.

Quirin and David Ray said they believed the concept is good.

“It is less subjective than what we have now,” Quirin said.

However, raises of 42-cent increments simply were not going to be accepted by some. Proehl and Ray we asked to bring other figures to the table, like 25-cent increments, or 30 cents.

Classifications would have to be set from the get-go, but the board agreed every year the classified raises would have to be discussed and approved, following determinations of affordability.      

Duroni said he just wants to see examples of what other districts are doing before making any decisions.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

“I’m not sold on this,” Duroni said.

Following more discussion, the board decided to table the classified payroll schedule because they want to spend the extra time on it given it is a long-term proposal.

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