LESD increasing teacher pay, other changes

Michelle Steik is a teacher at Verrado Heritage Elementary School, which is in the Litchfield Elementary School District. LESD recently authorized faculty pay increases, among other changes. (Photo courtesy Nicholas Lyle Photography)

When the Litchfield Elementary School District held multiple surveys and focus groups for its stakeholders, staff salary and class size emerged as central areas for improvement.

In one survey alone, increasing teacher compensation was the highest-ranked choice — with 49% of its 512 respondents deeming it their top priority — while reducing class sizes in kindergarten and sixth through eighth grades was the second highest-ranked choice.

In an effort to strengthen those compensation and staffing areas, the LESD governing board voted this spring to increase pay for teachers and staff, reduce class sizes and expand employee benefits.

Superintendent Jodi Gunning said addressing the needs of its educators is especially important to the district and will ultimately maintain a high retention rate.

“We are in a teacher shortage, and it’s something we’ve been facing for years. One of our district priorities has always been retaining those best and brightest teachers because we know what a direct impact they have,” Gunning said.

The last time LESD teachers received a pay increase was last year, Gunning added.

“We’ve always focused on teacher compensation. This last year, we were so fortunate that our voters approved an additional percentage in our override, and with those monies we give directly to our teachers.”

Extra funding from the state and that override — which provides district classrooms with additional funding for seven years and is capped at 15% of a school’s budget limit — will fund the new pay increase.

“It’s been so tremendous to be able to give back even more due to our override and the additional funding from the state,” Gunning said.

Through the pay increases, classified hourly staff — including classroom aides, bus drivers, office and food service staff and custodians — and certified staff — including teachers, coaches, student advisors, psychologists and therapists — will earn a 4% increase in their annual salaries. Administrative staff, which includes principals and directors, will earn a 3% increase. But, annual salary increases for all staff alike — new hires and returning staff — are based on year-end evaluation levels.

In addition to a pay increase, Gunning said employees will have access to Teladoc, a feature that provides members with 24-hour access to medical support and prescriptions by phone — at no additional cost to them.

“They can actually call in at any time and speak to a doctor over the phone to assess any kind of minor condition. That way they are able to stay healthy because we know how hard they work,” Gunning said.

And class size reductions, which will go into effect for the 2019-20 academic year, will foster a sense of happiness for teachers, Gunning said.

“When you look at class reduction, I think you look at the people side of it, the happiness of your teachers and that feel and relationships. It goes back to that retention and keeping your teachers happy and satisfied,” she said. “Happy teachers make happy students.”

Kindergarten and grade one and grades six through eight will all reduce the average teacher-to-student ratio by two students, while grades two through five will reduce the ratio by one student.

With these additions, Gunning said she hopes the district maintains and improves its retention rate for the next academic year.

“We want to keep our happy teachers so that we have that direct link to our students’ success,” she said.

Pay increases will go into effect July 1 and do not include additional 2% in performance pay for eligible employees or the increases to Proposition 301 and Indian Gaming amounts.