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The Buena Vista school district board approved the budget for the 2021 fiscal year at its meeting last Monday, April 12, including a step increase for all district personnel and a base salary increase for most.

Staff salaries in the district are public record and can be found on the district website under “Financial Transparency.”

A step increase “falls much more into your longevity or your retention,” district superintended Lisa Yates told The Times. “Last year, when COVID came and it disrupted everything, we did not give a step, and then later gave a one-time payment to staff doing additional work to get our schools open in-person.”

The stipend staff received was equal to what they would have gotten in a step increase, “So they got the money, they just didn’t get the movement on the schedule … If you were here last year and you are retained here then you would move from step one to step two, or from step 16 to step 17. Wherever you are on that schedule.”

Step one on the schedule represent’s the position’s base salary. The salary increases approved April 12, also included base increases “for most of the staff,” Yates said.

Before approving the step increase, board vice-president Ken McMurry suggested that the district give licensed teachers their step increase while holding off on a base salary increase while the situation with COVID-19 was still volatile.

“I obviously think it’s important to pay our employees as much as we can, but it makes me a bit uneasy in these less-than-predictable times to take this big step across the board,” said McMurry. “I was trying to figure out how to move forward with some salary changes and pause for a year with others.”

“For licensed instructors, rather than a base increase this year, give them a stipend, much like we did last year, then next year move forward for a base salary increase. That would be my suggestion,” McMurry said.

Rather than using the stipend to compensate for missing a step increase, the stipend would cover the year without a base salary increase, McMurry proposed.

Tracy Storms replied that, “To me, I just feel like our teachers are so important and rewarding them monetarily is just as important.

“They are so underpaid,” Storms said.

Storms, a real estate broker, said, “People on teacher’s salaries cannot afford to live in Buena Vista anymore. They just can’t.

“In 2011, the median close prices hit $400,000 on an average home. So if you take two educator’s salaries and both of them work in the school and together they make $60,000 a year, they’re not going to be able to find a place to live here,” she said. “In March statistics last month, (the median close price in BV) reached an all-time record high of $486,000. That’s almost $500,000 just to buy a house here,” Storms explained.

“That’s an increase of 15% year over year. I just feel like that’s going to be ongoing, and our blue-collar workers are not going to be able to stay here … If teachers and educators are not able to move here and live here, we’re not going to get strong applicants to our amazing teachers who have been here for so long who are retiring.”

Board president Suzette Hachmann noted that “The catch would be that they don’t have that same increase next year. It’s incremental, but they would be losing over time … They would end up with the same amount this year, but not each subsequent year.”

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