NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA) – Thousands of teachers across the Natural State are getting a pay increase this school year.
House Bill 1145 raises the minimum teacher pay by $4,000 over the next four years. It increased the salaries in 168 school districts– including Decatur schools.
Rachel Gibson is the Director of Decatur Schools’ Gifted and Advanced Placement programs. She works with students from kindergarten to 8th grade. “Our kids are our family,” Gibson said. It’s her 16th year as an educator and like many other teachers, she’s starting this school year with a boost to her income. “My daughter was able to pick up a second dance class because you just have that little extra expendable income that allows you to provide those opportunities for your family,” Gibson said.
In February, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law House Bill 1145. The goal is to raise the starting salary from $31,000 to $36,000 by the 2022-2023 school year.”I don’t think you’ll find any administrator that doesn’t think teachers deserve a pay raise they have the most important job in the school district,” Decatur Superintendent Stephen Watkins said.
Watkins says starting pay for his teachers was the state minimum at $31,800 but this year it bumped up one grand and will continue to increase using the state allotted funds.”Decatur is going to receive right around $300,000 in increased funding to help fund these raises for four years.”
Watkins says the district is already trying to figure out how to maintain paying teachers the $36,000 without cutting programs once the four years of aide are up. It’s these proactive measures that are encouraging to Gibson.
“It’s good to know that we’ve got good leadership that works really hard to make sure fiscally we’re looking at the future and what we can do to make sure our staff and students and community have what they need,” Gibson said.
House Bill 1145 only helps districts that are paying less than $36,000 salaries. So, what does that mean for districts that are only a couple of thousands of dollars short from that salary? Well, they’re still getting some state funds but not nearly as much. Just look at Greenland Schools.
According to Superintendent Dr. Andrea martin, it’s starting salary was about $34,500 – this year it was bumped to 35 grand. However getting to that 36-thousand dollar mark is tricky for the district since once it hits that, the state will no longer provide the district with that funding.
“what does that mean? Does that mean we have to cut programs? We may not have a Director of Instruction,” Dr. Martin said. “We don’t want to cut those positions but we have to really analyze, scrutinize our expenditures to make sure that we’re really focused on that and that’s what I don’t want to happen.”
Both districts agree though the pay increase is essential and they are proud to see the state supporting their educators.