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Trustees approve pay increases, incentives to hire and keep staff

By ThisIsReno
Published: Last Updated on

By Kelsey Penrose

Washoe County School District’s board trustees on Tuesday discussed increasing pay for school support staff and offering new hire and retention incentives, improvements to Incline High School, and a report of analysis regarding summer school and tutoring outcomes, among other items.

Emily Ellison, chief human resources officer, gave a presentation about the outcome of negotiations between WCSD and the Washoe Education Support Professionals (WESP), which tackled labor shortages within the district in transportation, nutrition services, housekeeping, and special education aides and assistants. 

During the prior year, there were 40 vacancies in transportation, leading to students unable to be transported 25% of the time. In addition, there are also major shortages within housekeeping and custodial staff, nutrition services and paraprofessionals, which are all impacting service to students, according to district officials. 

In April, staff presented to the board a review of the impacts from these shortages. Staff said   there are limited financial resources to fund pay increases, and no funding source that would provide for a sustainable compensation increase. 

“When we looked at competition for that workforce, and what market wages were versus what our wages are, what we discovered is that the greater the barrier to entry for the position – the more skill or speciality you must possess to be eligible – the greater the gap was between our wages and market,” Ellison said. “We wanted to try to get to, with our limited resources, with what was on par with the market.”

For entry level positions, the district is about 20% off of the current market wage level, and for skilled positions, that number increases to 25% off the market wage, she added. 

“I believe [pay raises and incentives are] an absolutely necessary step at this point, we are so far behind market in these student serving positions.”

Staff has been working with WESP to find solutions that will work for the district and employees. 

“WESP has gone into [discussions] with advocacy in mind for their members,” Ellison said. “We know that these are employees who are performing the day-to-day work in our schools, and are making sure our kids get there, get fed, that classrooms are cleaned, and so they came into negotiations with perspective and experience.” 

According to Ellison, the previous school year was the first time the district implemented pilot programs for new hire incentives for transportation, nutrition and housekeeping roles. New hire incentives resulted in recruiting 26% more bus drivers than in previous years. However, retention incentives were not successful. 

“Based on feedback, there’s a little bit of angst in the system,” Ellison said. “Because these aren’t the only areas we’re experiencing vacancies.” 

However, within “the Big Four,” as Ellison referred to them, the positions needed within transportation, nutrition, housekeeping and special education are eligible for pay adjustments allowing the district to attract and retain staff within this category because they are short-staffed in these areas. 

“The Big Four is an important concept in this agreement,” Ellison said. “[The recommended structure] addresses compensation, incentives and the reclassification process in order to restructure and reallocate our positions.”

The Big Four plan

In addition to staffing guideline changes and reclassifying positions, the agreement with WESP provides for adjustments to base compensation for positions identified as Critical Shortage Compensation Adjustment (CSCA) Eligible – that includes one-time differentials for employees not receiving a base compensation adjustment and incentives for referral and retention within the Big Four category. 

Employees in positions not identified as CSCA eligible will receive a one-time differential in the amount of $3,000 contingent upon approval of a grant request, which would be paid in a lump sum payment to active Education Support Professionals (ESP) who have worked a minimum of 90 days during the school year. 

Individuals employed by the district in retention incentive-eligible positions will receive payments totalling $2,000 in three installments from Aug. 24, 2022 to June 28, 2023.

Those hired as new employees in a qualifying new hire incentive position on or after July 1, 2022 and before June 30, 2023 will receive an incentive totalling $2,000. 

The base pay adjustments for transportation and housekeeping will result in a cost of $1.7 million, which will impact the district’s general fund. 

The base pay and reorganization costs for special education aides and assistants will cost $692,954, impacting the special education fund. 

The base pay adjustments for nutrition services cost $1.9 million, made up of $1.1 million in base pay adjustments and $777,813 in incentives, and the nutrition services fund will cover the cost. 

The remaining one-time differentials ($4.5 million), new hire ($470,353), retention ($2.3 million) and referral ($235,176) incentives will be paid from elementary and secondary school emergency relief fund (ESSER), for a total of $7.5 million. 

WCSD Chief Human Resources Officer Emily Ellison

When asked if she believed, in her professional capacity, whether or not these programs will be successful, Ellison said she believed not taking these steps would be irresponsible. 

“I believe it’s an absolutely necessary step at this point, we are so far behind market in these student serving positions, it would be irresponsible not to take some action to attempt to address it,” she told the trustees. 

The agreement will continue through June of next year, and Ellison said there will need to be additional funding sources as well as reassessing language going forward. 

Most of the trustees agreed they would like to see their staff paid more, especially in times of high inflation and high housing costs with median housing prices recently reaching $600,000. 

Trustee Jeff Church said he doesn’t believe the program will be successful when offering more pay when housing is unaffordable. He asked for a provision in the contract to be added to say the district would not be prohibited from offering housing or housing vouchers to employees. 

However, the agenda item as written did not allow the agreement to be amended during the process without violating open meeting law. 

The motion carried 6-1 with Church voting against. 

More trustee actions

Incline High School

A presentation was given to provide an update on the Incline High School Expansion study, as well as approval of an agreement with the Dave & Cheryl Duffield Foundation to fund the related design and construction improvements at Incline High School for up to $38 million.

Director of Planning and Design Teresa Golden provided the presentation. She listed previous contributions by the Duffield Foundation to include a Boys and Girls Club, staff positions, capital projects, equipment and more. 

“They have provided generous funding over the years,” Golden said. “The most recent [project] was the Incline High School theater project which was finished about a year ago, and was really a successful project. I’m really excited to be able to have another partnership with them and see this project through completion.” 

The Foundation contacted WCSD in regards to the project’s phases. 

Phase one includes replacing the football field with new artificial turf, installing a new eight-lane regulation track along with field amenities, expanding bleachers and adding a new athletic weight room, lockers, snack shack and press box. 

Phase two includes demolishing ROTC and constructing a 23,000 square-foot expansion on the west side, with a new ROTC space, a dance studio, culinary kitchen,  and presentation space. 

Construction is slated to begin in 2023. 

Results of ESSER spending

A presentation was held regarding the ongoing evaluation of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II) under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Act under the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. 

One of the focuses was summer school 2021, which provided education to more than 10,000 students across 87 school sites. 

Following the summer school season, an analysis found that about 75% of teachers, facilitators and families were satisfied or very satisfied with the summer school programming. 

Major challenges were listed as timely communication and logistics, while opportunities were listed as more time for pre-planning, and a year of prior experience detailing what worked to improve programming.

During the summer, student attendance and engagement were challenges, and continue to be during the regular school year. 

More than 4,000 high school students participated in summer school. Of those who attempted earning a credit during summer school before August 2021, 49% completed that credit. 

The presentation also included information about tutoring. Throughout the district over 6,000 students were tutored by 438 tutors, logging a total number of tutoring hours of over 61,000. Principals were given the flexibility to select tutoring models that best met their schools’ needs, including before school, during school and after school sessions. 

Teachers make up 82% of tutors, with other school staff and even outside college students making up the rest of the tutoring spectrum. 

Presenters mentioned that some of the most successful tutoring programs are happening within school hours, and some schools are electing to hire retired teachers to assist in tutoring students in small groups. 

Several agenda items were postponed due to a trustee potentially having a conflict of interest in regards to campaign contributions, relating to the Debbie Smith Career and Technical Education (CTE) Academy High School, a new elementary school and other construction projects. 

  • An agreement renewal with Infinite Campus, the web-based student information system, was approved for July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023 totaling $439,228.
  • A cost-reimbursable contract was approved between WCSD and Aramark Education Services for $444,836 to cover child nutrition programs and associated expenses. 
  • A professional services agreement with H&K Architects for a Seismic Feasibility Study of the science and cafeteria wings of Reno High School was approved for $122,500. 
  • Authorization was granted to move forward with the relocation of a mobile classroom to Lemmon Valley Elementary School for $339,000.
  • A construction contract was awarded to Bruce Purves Construction for replacement of a gym divider at Traner Middle School for $143,566. 
  • A service agreement with Blackboard was renewed for website activities totaling $246,219 through June of 2023.
  • Approval was granted for the annual renewal of the Business Plus Software License with Powerschool in the amount of $134,418 through June 30, 2023. 
  • A grant application to the Nell J. Redfield Foundation for the Redfield Community Outreach Program was approved for $320,957. 
  • An agreement between WCSD and the Washoe Education Association was approved for the payment of the employee’s daily rate of pay and performance expectations for summer school instruction during Summer 2022 for about $3.5 million, as well as an agreement for WESP summer school instruction for about $435,000. 
  • An approval was granted for the addition of the College of Southern Nevada as a dual credit provider in the WCSD and the addition of certain dual credit courses for students during the 2022-23 school year. 
  • An approval was granted for an understanding between WCSD and Truckee Meadows Community College for the TMCC High School Program for a two-year term between July 2022 and June 2024. 
  • An agreement between WCSD and WESP was approved providing for the procedures to be used for placement of employees impacted by a reorganization and reallocation of special education aide and assistant positions that will provide for additional hours and increased compensation. 

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