School district spends reserve

School district spends reserve by M. Jill Karolevitz A new salary schedule will give raises to all staff members of the Vermillion School System, and for teachers, that means an average of 6.62 percent more in their paychecks for the 2000-01 school year.

�The old system did not treat everyone fairly � some people got big raises, some slightly less. Not everyone benefitted the same way,� said Robert Mayer, superintendent. �So we threw that out and put together a whole new salary schedule for all employees.�

After a year of research, the Vermillion Board of Education approved a two-year agreement.

�They adopted the Spearfish model,� Mayer said. �It rewards for advanced education as a teacher earns it and for years of service � which most schedules do, but this does it more fairly.�

For the 2000-01 school year, the maximum raise for teachers will be $2,250 per year, with the minimum set at $1,250 � a 6.62 percent increase.

The following year, those numbers will change to $2,000 and $1,000, respectively � a 4.5 percent increase.

�A beginning teacher � with no extras � would have seen $22,300 before,� Mayer said. �For this coming year, it will be $23,000. A new teacher with a master�s degree under the old schedule would have been paid $23,452. The new salary schedule brings that up to $25,600.

�Compared to how other schools pay in South Dakota, we�re probably toward the high end,� Mayer continued. �And this new salary schedule will help us attract people. We can be more competitive, which will make hiring easier. It will also help us retain staff.�

This year�s cost for these teacher raises is $180,000. For the entire staff, the total is $250,000. Money for the salary increases will come from the Vermillion School District�s general fund reserves.

�We felt significant pressure from the Janklow administration to spend the reserves, so we�re doing what other schools are doing,� Mayer said. �We will not get significant increases in state aid until those reserves are spent. But we all hope the state is there with its share of funding when the need is there.�

During the 2000 South Dakota legislative session, Governor Bill Janklow criticized school district officials, saying they have hoarded the money the state gives them instead of using it to boost teachers� salaries. He was unsuccessful in capping the amount school districts could hold in their budget reserves, but continued to be adamant that they get the reserves down. Because the reserves are a non-renewable resource, this is causing some concern about continuing a system for pay increases over the next few years.

�This new salary schedule is a two-year agreement, but who knows after that?� Mayer said.

The district could be looking at cutting programs, smaller raises and borrowing money to meet cash flow in the years to come, he added.

�South Dakota schools are in a Catch 22 situation,� Mayer said. �How can they justify not spending their reserves on teachers� salaries? But if they do, they are going to run out of money and run into potential financial difficulties.�

The Vermillion School District had $2.6 million in reserves at the beginning of the last school year.

�When Leon Swier started as superintendent about 10 years ago, there was no money in the coffers,� Mayer said. �The district was heavy into borrowing. The school board told him the cash fund must be increased so that borrowing would be limited. So that�s what he did.�

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