District proposes 5% staff raises
New London pay increases could be below inflation
By Scott Bellile
Budgetary constraints mean New London School District staff could receive less than cost-of-living raises for the 2023-24 academic year.
The New London School Board on April 10 discussed a 5% raise for employees before returning the matter to the district’s Total Compensation Committee for further consideration.
Five percent would be below a cost-of-living raise in accordance with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, which is 8%.
“The Board is not required to meet this percentage, but it is common practice for school districts,” SDNL Business Services Director Joe Marquardt wrote in a memo. “The committee’s goal is to provide an 8 percent increase to the certified staff group. The staff has shared they are anticipating this increase with the economic challenges of inflation that have impacted them financially.”
The proposed raise could up each employee’s base pay by 5%.
Alternatively, it could be awarded by taking the total impact of a 5% raise on the district’s budget – around $750,000, plus fringe benefits – and dividing that amount to award everyone an equal dollar amount.
The latter scenario would produce a $2,466 raise for certified staff members and a 95-cent hourly raise for support staff.
Less buying power
Several board members opposed the latter because it would disproportionately benefit newer hires.
Regardless, finding a way to bump the raise to 8% is “really critical,” Director Terry Wegner said.
“We’re all living in a time when, without that raise, you have less buying power than ever,” Wegner said. “And just by doing CPI [8%], we don’t raise anybody’s buying power. We just keep up with inflation.”
He added, “I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘We really believe in our teachers; we honor them,’ and then when our CPI goes up, ‘Well, it was nice while it lasted.’”
The board could lift the 5% raise to 8% later if the Republican legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers agree to raise revenue limits for the 125 lowest-enrollment school districts including New London.
Several board members said they doubt that will happen, but Marquardt noted school districts have recently stepped up in pressuring the state’s Joint Finance Committee to increase the revenue limits.
However, such action could not happen until the 2024-25 school year at the earliest.
Board members discussed a short-term solution to cover the 3% difference: federal pandemic aid.
The problem would be sustaining the higher base wages after the aid becomes unavailable the following year, Marquardt said.
Future budget options
The board must discuss how to fund district operations, including teacher compensation, these next five years without depending on “the state coming to bail us out,” Wegner said.
“I do think going into the 2024 school year, we have to get back to basics: charging for registration, charging for parking,” Director Mandy Wilz said. “I mean, every parent loves free stuff, but we can’t sustain our budget when we’re giving everything away for free.”
“I think at the end of the day, I don’t see us doing anything but trying to get a referendum at some point in the not-too-distant future because this is unsustainable,” Wegner said. “And we owe … our employees a fair living, and we owe our community good schools, and you can’t do it without good staff. You start to lose too many teachers, and we’ll find ourselves with classes of 30, 35 kids. That’s not good for education.”
District voters in 2018 approved a 10-year referendum to fund maintenance projects at the six schools.
Although property owners are collectively contributing $1.3 million per year toward these projects, the current mill rate of $5.55 per $1,000 of assessed value is at its lowest since the 1980s.