The Hudson School Board last week approved a $24.5 million 2015-16 teacher-compensation package -- about $1 million more than last year's -- that is expected raise certified-staff pay by an estimated 4.27 percent districtwide.

The adjustments, recommended by district Human Resources Director Andrea Voelker at the board’s May 12 monthly meeting as a way to bolster teacher retention and recruitment in the wake of three-year-old state collective-bargaining restrictions and other factors, include the following:

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-A 1.5 percent across-the-board cost-of-living pay raise totaling an estimated $352,500.

-Additional $3,000 annual pay hikes for district teachers who have earned new master’s degrees –- totaling an estimated $90,000.

-Market-based teacher stipends totaling an estimated $110,000.

-Other compensation adjustments based on teacher pay in comparable school districts -– totaling $450,000.

The total cost of next year’s teacher pay package is about $1,002,500 higher than this year’s $23,500,000, and about $297,500 higher than the district’s $24,205,000 preliminary 2015-16 certified-salary budget.

District Financial Service Director Tim Erickson said the new salary package would amount to about 1 percent of next year's school-district budget, which is already expected to be stretched by a 9.7-11.7 percent decline in state aid.

Board President Jamie Johnson was quick to point out that a final tax-levy decision will not be made until November and that alternative funding might be available at that time to pay for the new teacher-salary plan. He also noted that even with the pay raises approved by the board last week, Hudson’s certified teachers would still be paid less than the median among comparable school districts.  

Retention problem? Board member Lynn Robson, meanwhile, kicked off the board’s discussion of the 2015-16 package by acknowledging that in the wake of state Act 10 teacher-pay restrictions, local teachers have been working without a clear career path based on performance and market factors.

“This allows our teachers to see where they stand,” Robson said of the new 2015-16 compensation plan.

Voelker added that a study of teacher salaries in comparable school districts -– done as a baseline to guide development of the new pay plan –- showed Hudson at the low end of the spectrum.

“Which isn’t particularly surprising since we haven’t had a salary structure for the last few years,” she said.

Meanwhile, district officials are worried about a decline in educational quality as Hudson’s most talented teachers consider potentially higher compensation elsewhere.

Board member Sandy Gehrke, however, said she was concerned about the local tax burden if teacher pay hikes are locked in year-to-year. Gehrke added that she was not convinced that teacher retention is a serious problem in the district, noting an estimated 75 percent retention rate over several recent years.

“I understand the risk of losing people. … But what would this mean to the taxpayer?” she said. “Unless we come up with a different way of funding it, I am going to oppose it.”

Voelker and several other board members countered that a clear career path - a key component of retention – has been missing in Hudson since Act 10.

Added outgoing Hudson schools Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten: “I think we really are at a tipping point” where teacher retention is concerned. … “Moving to a performance-based system is very important to closing the gap between Hudson and other districts. I firmly believe that our teachers deserve to be paid at the same level as those in other districts.”

Said new board member Sue Kattas: “My focus is on the children and whatever we can do to make sure that those higher-standing (pay) levels are met.”

The salary-adjustment package was approved on a 6-1 roll call vote, with Gehrke dissenting.

Ongoing salary structure Following that discussion, the board also approved a similarly composed, ongoing certified-staff salary structure that will set the stage for compensation during the 2016-17 school year and beyond.

The new salary structure - in the planning stage for the last three years - considers base salary, performance, masters-degree acquisitions, years of experience, teachers’ professional job-title categories and market-driven stipends.

Gehrke initially balked at the new plan, repeating that she was concerned about the potential for locking in year-to-year pay increases regardless of the financial conditions future school boards encounter.

“This seems like a promise to the teachers,” she said. “If the board is in a difficult year … what happens then?”

Erickson and Voelker, however, noted that while the new salary structure sets a more predictable blueprint for ongoing teacher compensation, the board will still be able to adjust it year-to-year according to prevailing financial and tax circumstances.

Added new board member Rob Brown: “We’re not committing to this forever. This is something we’ll go over every year as we go through financial planning. But we need to support our teachers and show them the value they have to the district. It’s a commitment we need to make, otherwise we stand to lose a lot of talented people.”

That reassured Gehrke, who joined the rest of the board in approving moving forward with the new salary structure on a unanimous voice vote.

“I’m seeing it now -– it’s not something that’s carved in stone,” Gehrke said before the vote. “This is a great plan. It still includes board decisions every year.”

In other action at last week’s meeting, Bowen-Eggebraaten outlined figures projecting higher districtwide actual kindergarten enrollment at the end of the 2014-15 school year after two years of declines.

Actual enrollment fell from 391 in February, 2012 to 352 in September, 2013, and to 319 in September 2014. Preliminary registration figures predict 350 enrolled kindergarteners in May 2015.