Muscogee County School Board considers plan to address salary compression

Superintendent David Lewis on Monday recommended the Muscogee County School Board approve a two-step plan to address salary compression issues.

After the work session, Kathy Tessin, the Muscogee County School District's chief human resources officer, told the Ledger-Enquirer the plan would affect approximately 2,200 of the 4,300 full-time employees who are not teachers or school-based administrators, because they are included in the state's salary system, which has step raises for years of experience.

A combination of state budget cuts from the Great Recession and market conditions increasing the compensation package to attract some new employees, Tessin said, has resulted in no raises for many employees during the past nine years, some veteran employees earning less than new hires in the same job and some employees earning less than the staff they supervise.

The board is scheduled to vote on the recommendation during its March 16 meeting, starting at 6 p.m.

As presented during the board's work session Monday evening, the first step calls for an internal analysis to develop a plan for a tiered salary increase proposal "for longer service employees." The number of years isn't denoted.

The second step calls for "continued adjustments, as well as a total redesign of the system using outside compensation consultation. If feasible within the available monies for the 2015-16 fiscal year, an initial adjustment for this employment group will be budgeted based on the parameters attached." Those parameters are:

"Any adjustments will only be made to individuals' salaries for those employees receiving overall satisfactory performance ratings in the prior evaluation year."

"Adjustments will be focused to first address the salary compression that has evolved from 2006 to present, due to market shifts and recessionary cuts that have resulted in a lack of spread salaries for varying lengths of service."

"To begin to correct this compression, any proposed salary adjustment will be based on length of service with the school district, with employees having worked three or more years in the same salary grade/band being the focus of any initial corrective action."

"If feasible, a tiered adjustment will also be included to acknowledge longer service within same salary grade/bands."

"For those classifications in skilled maintenance, bus mechanics, and bus drivers, since experience steps already are included in the current pay schedule, a beginning market adjustment will be considered to start addressing external competitive factors, as well as adding an additional experience step for additional years of MCSD service within those job positions."

"Any proposal included in the FY16 budget presented to the School Board in June 2015 will break out the total budget impact line item, with the details of specific increase percentiles, roll-up for all benefits gauged off of base salary, and numbers of employees encompassed in the proposal."

The extent of the plan -- how many employees will get raises and how much -- will depend on the fiscal year's funding from the state, Tessin said, so she wouldn't estimate how much it could cost the district. Asked whether the extent of the plan also depends on voters approving the March 17 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Tessin echoed the rationale Lewis has been giving at public forums to explain the need to renew the 1 percent sales tax that expired Dec. 31: Georgia law allows SPLOST money to be spent on only capital projects, but the $192,185,000 the MCSD administration is requesting to collect from the SPLOST in five years would mean the district could use less general fund on capital expenses and more of it on personnel, which takes up about 85 percent of this year's $264,717,610 budget.

Regardless, the district would start with the most senior employees if it implements this plan and then determine how much money is left for the rest, Tessin said.

During the work session, Tessin told the board, "We're starting to see turnover in critical positions where we feel salary issues were a significant part of the decisions." For example, she said, a secretary with 12 years of experience is making $12.72 an hour, the same rate as a new hire.

"Even though those experienced people have been loyal through the furlough days and are training new hires," Tessin said, "they're not seeing a reward for that."

The administration also is considering a bonus system for employee attendance, she said.

Lewis called the plan "a systemic fix. It's not just a Band-Aid, because it requires surgery, to deal with it right now to the extent as much as we can based on the budget available."

In November, approximately 36 percent (75 of 206) of the district's full-time bus drivers staged a sick-out for one day to call attention to their salary issues. The superintendent said Monday that he already has agreed to one of their demands: Starting next school year, they will be paid every two weeks instead of monthly.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.