The Crossett School District will be able to carry the load of two mandated wage increases for its employees, but will have to be watchful as it does so.

That was the message CSD Finance Director Norman Hill took to the CSD board of trustees Monday night.

The first of the wage increases is the minimum wage increase for classified employees, the result of a state Constitutional amendment voters passed for all minimum wage employees last fall. The $11 minimum wage will mean an increase in costs of approximately 27 percent in salaries for district classified employees, requiring an additional $253,319 annually when it is in full effect in 2021, Hill said.

“Right now, the school district is held accountable coming up with that.

The second increase Hill said was of concern is one that cleared the General Assembly earlier this year, and set the minimum wage for certified employees at $36,000, raising it from $31,800.

Crossett won’t see the cost immediately because it’s base pay is already at $33,00, but the following year the district will have to add $800 to the certified employees on the minimum, and $1,100 the two successive years, Hill said.

The legislature passed a one-time $60 million pool of money to help school districts offset the initial costs of increasing certified salaries, but Superintendent Gary Williams said schools can’t draw from that pool until the annual rate they have to match exceeds what they already pay.

“The money will run out before it arrives for all districts,” Williams said.

The CSD will receive $501,138.38 of the $60 million pool, though it will ultimately have to increase its certified salaries by approximately $951,000, Hill said.

“We are not getting any new federal money,” he said.

Hill said there’s some possibility some of the funding can be covered by the state’s foundation funding for education. Though the bill passed the legislature and was signed, it goes against previous court rulings about providing adequate funding.

The last time the adequate funding ruling was challenged was in 2007, Hill said, and every Session since then the legislature has gotten away from it.

“The salary increase did not even come through the adequacy study,” he said.

“It came through individual legislators and the governor.”

Another lawsuit will be needed to challenge the mandated increases in light of the adequacy funding rulings on the books, Hill said.

Williams said that school districts with fewer than 750 students will be hit the hardest by the increases, but educational leaders around the state are already working with legislators to try to find a solution.

“We are going to be OK, but we are going to have to make some budget decisions and have to make some hard looks at things,” he said. “Districts our size are going to be OK, but it is those smaller districts that are going to be hurt.”

In other news, the school board granted out-of-state travel for the Crossett Beta Club to attend the national convention and the Crossett Middle School robotics team to attend nationals in Iowa.

The board also appointed Stephanie Brooks as the Crossett High School assistant principal for the 2019-2020 academic year.

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