If your goals for the new year involve gaining employment with the St. Michael-Albertville School District, your pocketbook may be in luck.
The STMA school board recently approved new two-year contracts for maintenance and support care staff that includes fairly sizable pay raises for these two groups of school employees. The STMA school district has fallen behind most neighboring school districts in terms of pay for these workers, and the new contracts attempt to remedy the situation and attract and retain quality staff members.
Doug Birk, the district’s director of administrative services, said negotiations went very quickly this time around and that the maintenance union unanimously approved the new contract, with the support staff workers approving theirs by a wide margin.
Board chair Gayle Weber said she believes this is the first time she has ever seen a contract pass unanimously, and said it was passed while still being within the parameters the school board set.
The maintenance contract’s cost went up by just over 10 percent for the next two-year period, which begins this fall. Birk said every maintenance worker will receive, at minimum, a pay increase of $.50 per hour, but some levels will see a bigger jump. The contract also went from a five-step scale to a four-step scale in order to match what other local districts are offering.
A newly hired maintenance worker now receives $14.22 per hour, but next school year that figure will be $15.32. A worker with four years of experience will go from $18.40 this year to $19.40 next year.
In order to encourage reduced absenteeism, Birk said they have created a sick leave savings incentive. Additionally, they started a matching contribution benefit for retirement savings.
“The overall package, we believe, ranks us far more competitively among all our regional school districts, with maybe the outlier exception being Elk River,” Birk said. “But we do believe this will place us to be far more competitive in the market than we were in the previous cycle.”
For the support staff workers, Birk said the process is always a little trickier because of the wide array of distinct and separate units that fall under the umbrella of support staff. However, he felt the process was collaborative and went well. Like the maintenance contract, Birk said the goal was to increase pay in order to be competitive, while still working within budget constraints. The contract’s cost went up slightly over 10 percent and the pay schedule moved from a six-step scale to a four-step scale.
As an example of the pay increases, Birk said new second cooks will go from a current wage of $11.43 an hour this year to $12.55 an hour next year. With four years of experience, these cooks will see an increase of $3.79 per hour because they were significantly below the market rate.
“That was an area we tried to place a lot of focus on, in order to get us to a place that we felt we could attract some pools of people,” Birk said.
Office and special education paraprofessionals will also see larger increases at some points in their contracts due to STMA being markedly behind the local market.
“That’s been hurting us,” Weber said. “The change in retention has been a problem.”
“We believe it will make us more competitive,” Birk said of the pay increases, even while saying they won’t be a magic bullet because certain support staff positions, like special education transportation workers or cooks, have unique working hours. “We can’t fill certain positions, and in some cases pools exist with one person in it. So, we’re hopeful that this new contract will turn that around a little bit.”
“I’m extremely pleased with it,” Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said, saying she feels the pay increases and the shorter period of time it will take workers to reach their full wage potential will make a difference. “In the long-term I think it will help us attract more staff members and also retain the staff members we have.”