JONESBORO — Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that bills he signed would raise the median teacher’s salary by $2,000, exciting educators statewide, but a local school administrator expressed concern about implementing them.
Hutchinson signed House Bill 1614 and Senate Bill 504 into law early Monday afternoon, which amended provisions of the code for state foundation funding and created a teacher salary equalization board.
“For the 2021-22 and the 2022-23 school year, the statewide target average annual salary shall be $51,822,” the bills stated.
Westside Consolidated School District Superintendent Scott Gauntt said several districts are working toward adhering to the Teacher Salary Enhancement Act of 2019, which gradually increases the first-year salary from $32,800 during the 2019-20 year to $36,000 by the 2022-23 term.
Gauntt said the salary for a first-year teacher at Westside is $33,800, which is the minimum required by the state.
“We are working on getting salaries up to $36,000 for the base pay,” Gauntt said. “The signing of today’s bill is just the beginning for us. The State Department of Education has to make the rules and regulations and we have not received those yet.”
From his understanding, Gauntt said the two-part legislation signed Monday won’t really go into effect for districts until they have reached the $36,000 base salary. The Teacher Equality Fund, designed to help Arkansas school districts reach the median salary of $51,822, will be accessible to districts once they reach the $36,000 base salary, he said.
Teacher salaries come out of district operating budgets, Gauntt said, adding that Westside can expect to shell out an additional $500,000 in salaries each year once districts reach the new plateau, he said.
“Currently, a program called the Educator Compensation Reform Fund is sending us the money each year to increase those base salaries. ... The problem is, once we reach the $36,000 for all first-year teachers, the next year, school districts are responsible for that cost. We are hoping this new program will cushion that blow.”
Gauntt said those salary increases are tough on any school budget.
“I am not sure where other schools are at, but the more teachers you have, the more it is going to cost,” he said.
For some districts, there will be no change and no subsidized salaries.
Jonesboro School District Superintendent Kim Wilbanks said median salaries for her district are already above Hutchinson’s mark. It sits at $53,277.28.
“The Jonesboro District is currently above the state average in regard to salary funds and will receive no additional funds for salaries,” Wilbanks wrote in an email to The Sun.
Brookland Superintendent Keith McDaniel said his district was also at the median range.
“That number is from the 19-20 school year. We have not done Cycle 8 yet, which will generate the 20-21 number,” McDaniel noted via email Tuesday.
Greene County Tech added $1,100 to the base pay of teacher salaries this year, Superintendent Gene Weeks said.
“We got a little bit of supplemental money to help us get our salaries where they need to be,” he said. “Sometimes, the funding helps and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Buffalo Island Central Superintendent Gaylon Taylor said he was unaware of the new legislation. Nettleton Superintendent Karen Curtner said she was occupied in meetings all day Tuesday and could not discuss the issue.