BAYFIELD – The Bayfield school district is gradually increasing its employee salaries to market rates, and it is starting by giving a raise to its lowest-paid group: school secretaries.
The district launched its first salary study in collective memory at the beginning of the school year, said Kevin Aten, superintendent. While many employee groups’ beginning salaries are 10% below market average, school secretaries’ starting pay was 24% below the market, according to the study.
“I really love my job. There’s no place I’d rather be,” said Lynn Ferguson, the district’s head secretary, at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “I just want to make sure that everybody understands and recognizes that secretaries are on the lowest pay scale.”
Beginning school secretaries are paid $12.05 per hour, a rate that increases with experience. But others with comparable experience – aides, custodians, bus drivers, kitchen assistants and other positions – all earn more. Not only that, but in 2018, they received a pay decrease when they lost a stipend, Ferguson said.
The board voted unanimously to increase the hourly rate for all secretaries by $2.50, bringing the staring salary for school secretaries from $12.05 to $14.55, closer to the market rate of $15.55.
While the district has known school secretaries were paid below market rates, the salary study showed by exactly how much, Aten said.
The original proposal was to increase the hourly rate by $3.50, but the board’s decision puts secretary wages within 8% of the market rate, he said.
Secretaries constantly switch between everything from monitoring security cameras, helping with attendance, handing out Band-Aids to coordinating deliveries – in addition to administrative tasks.
“We’re trying to honor these very important employees,” Aten said. “Anybody that’s ever been in a school knows that these are very important people.”
Looking aheadThe district sees market-based compensation as a “critical” strategy to continue to attract staff, according to the study.
Still, with a tight budget to consider, board members weighed funding priorities during the meeting. Higher salaries could mean less funding for other projects.
“We’re overspending by up to $200,000. We’re doing that consciously to spend down some reserve fund balance,” Aten said. “You can’t do that forever, but it’s allowing us to reinvest in our people.
Overall, the study showed that the starting salary for many employee groups is below market average – including bus drivers, principals and directors.
For teachers, the beginning teacher salary is 6.4% below market rate; however, teachers with master’s degrees and more experience are paid up to 6.9% above market rates.
The fact that Bayfield can pay experienced teachers higher-than-average salaries proves the district is competitive in recruiting and retaining experienced teachers in the region, the study said.
The next step for the district is to prioritize employee groups for raises, while considering a limited budget, state funding, ongoing costs and market-driven factors.
The push to increase raises districtwide is “fantastic,” Ferguson said.
“I am very happy that it is a raise, although I do wish that it would’ve been the proposed $3.50,” she said.