Evansville teachers want pay spread out to include summer months

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Gina Duwe
Friday, March 14, 2014

EVANSVILLE--Evansville teachers continue to seek a change in how they're paid after the school board this week voted down a request from teachers to have their paychecks spread out to include summers.

The decision to this year pay teachers over 20 pay periods instead of 24 came to a head Wednesday night when the board voted 3-4 to keep the new system, which means teacher pay is not prorated over the summer.

The board approved a 1.3 percent raise retroactive to July 1 and will continue a discussion about paying stipends using a budget surplus, but teachers left the meeting upset over the summer paycheck vote.

The meeting was the first time in her 25 years in Evansville that teacher Julie Creek-Hessler, who also is the vice president of the teachers union, remembers teachers collectively going to the school board to ask for something, she said.  

“In all actuality, it makes us feel like us teachers' opinions don't matter or our life circumstances don't matter,” she said.

Several teachers asked the school board Wednesday night to restore the option of getting 24 smaller checks over 12 months rather than 20 larger checks over 10 months.

They cited a staff survey in which 77.6 percent of respondents said it would be a hardship for them to be paid over 20 pay periods. Seventy employees did not respond.

The change was made when the staff handbook was written, and changing back would cost about $10,000, district staff told the school board.

Board member Sandra Spanton Nelson $10,000 would be a small price for the morale boost it would give staff.

Spanton Nelson, Mason Braunschweig and Dennis Hatfield voted for providing the 24-check pay option, while Kathi Swanson, Tina Rossmiller, John Rasmussen and Eric Busse voted against it.

Administrators estimated it would cost $10,000 to add four payroll runs, and most of the work would be done over summer, Business Manager Doreen Treuden said. That would mean a part-time employee likely would need to work the summer, she said.

“We were trying with our best efforts to streamline things, and instead we're going in the opposite direction and making it very difficult,” she said.

With 20 pay periods, teachers are paid the same amount, but they receive their last paychecks of the school year June 10. Paychecks resume after school resumes in the fall.

Creek-Hessler said some people have a difficult time budgeting their money to last through the summer. Others have complained that the 20-payment system can affect school financial aid or push people into higher tax brackets, she said.

A teacher has now filed a request for the item to be changed in the handbook. The policy committee will take up the request, Treuden said.

Superintendent Jerry Roth favored 20 pay periods, saying at the meeting he had to stick with his “financial hat.”

The board unanimously approved a 1.3 percent salary increase for all staff. It will cost about $150,000 and be paid using the $165,000 surplus in this year's budget.

The district has a surplus because of significant staff changes last summer, Treuden said.

Roth said the raise was “a must” because of the hard work by staff members.

The board also continued a discussion about giving a stipend to all staff members, using part of the $338,000 surplus from the 2012-13 budget. Staff changes, increased Medicaid reimbursements and a mild winter created the surplus, Treuden said.

Roth said the stipend would be “another way of showing them that we appreciate the work that they do. They're working extremely hard. We haven't been able to show our appreciation through increased salaries like we'd like to because we have limits based on what the state has done to us, and this is another way to do this.”

Roth recommended a $500 stipend for all 12-month employees and $375 for all nine- to 11-month employees.

The board will continue the discussion at its April 30 meeting.  

Retired teacher Bill Hartje told the board staff stipends are important because of the sacrifices teachers made—he said he took about a $5,000 pay cut—when they reopened their contracts in the aftermath of Act 10.

Hartje retired about 18 months  ago and is a member of the district's citizens advisory committee and insurance committee.

“We've really tried to make this a district where people want to come to and stay here,” he said, “and I'm concerned the district is becoming a place to be from, rather than being a place to come to.”

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