Rhinelander school board approves using unbudgeted funds for first salary increase in six years
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Teachers in the School District of Rhinelander will be receiving salary increases next year. The board of education voted Monday to approve using just over $408,000 in state energy exemption revenues to fund salary increases for the 2017-18 school year. The total amount available is $490, 161 which has been added to the SDR revenue limit. The energy exemption revenue is money that was supposed to go the district after it completed certain energy-saving projects several years ago. Instead, the Department of Public Instruction penalized the district and now, has reversed its ruling.
“After we qualified for it the state decided, maybe not,” said Superintendent Kelli Jacobi. “This is money that we hadn’t budgeted elsewhere and it will help solve the problem of how to take care of our employees.”
These will be the first raises that go beyond the Consumer Price Index (CPI) since Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 mandated that six years ago. In addition to the unbudgeted revenue, another factor in the salary increase is the Rhinelander Education Association choosing not to recertify as a union last December.
“We’ve always been limited to CPI post-Act 10, and because the teachers didn’t recertify, we can look at other options,” Jacobi said. “And this is one where we’re not going to our taxpayers and asking for additional money. We’re using the money that’s coming in from this energy exemption for this purpose. In my mind this is a win-win.”
There are currently 13 steps in the professional employee salary schedule. The administration’s recommendation is to move all teachers up one step, or depending on their date of hire, to the correct step. Due to the district’s financial constraints, the maximum per teacher increase is $4,000. [See sidebar] Jacobi said after the professional employees’ salaries, she would recommend increasing support staff and administrative wages.
“If we can get this coming in for at least a couple years it will get people to where they should be based on their number of years,” Jacobi said. “In the event that the state stops distributing this money, then we have to go back to budgeting for staff increases, which was part of how we did business before Act 10.”
The Employee Relations Committee, which also met Monday, forwarded the compensation proposal to the full board. Committee member Duane Frey urged board members to approve the resolution.
“One of the things we talked about tonight is the number of districts in our area, I think there are seven, where the average salary is higher than Rhinelander’s, which makes it difficult for us to keep teachers,” Frey said. “It’s long overdue. We have to do something to get our teachers going and I hope this goes through.”
Jacobi emphasized that the district is not trying to have the highest-paid teachers; a three to four-percent increase is modest, but “huge” over what the district could offer over the past five or six years.
“This year [the CPI was] .12 percent,” said Jacobi. “In our community, they understand we have to keep our great teachers. I understand that taxpayers don’t want to pay more; we’re working really hard on keeping all our costs down, but it’s been so many years since our teachers have seen an increase that I think we really need to move in this direction.”
The board voted 6-0 to approve the 2017-18 professional employee compensation as proposed. Three members, Ron Counter, Judy Conlin and David Holperin were absent.