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Prescott School Board votes to boost teacher pay

By John McLoone

The Prescott School Board approved a plan that will advance pay for teachers and other licensed sta by $2,000 next year at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 20 with much of the funding coming from a new health insurance plan that could save $150,000 in the coming year.

Meeting at the Prescott Performing Arts Center, the board heard the pay plan present – ed by Superintendent Dr. Rick Spicuzza, who said it will help with retention of sta.

Spicuzza said the district studied pay data from 42 western Wisconsin districts that are part of its CESA (Cooperative Education Services Agency) District. He said increases planned for district teaching sta range from between 2% to the Consumer Price Index which is 4.57%.

"We're not limited by CPI, because we don't have a formal bargaining unit, but it is a metric we have tried to use to keep pace and make sure we have competitive wages," said Spicuzza.

Spicuzza said that Prescott can plan for it despite the fact that the Wisconsin Legisla- ture isn't earmarking any new funds for pub –

lic education.

"The Legislature is sitting on over $3 bil – lion of Wisconsin taxpayer dollars plus it has a rainy-day fund of $1.7 billion. They've pro – vided public education with zero additional dollars for 2021-22 and 22-23," said Spicuz – za. "The district board's fiscal management and some of the work we've done collective – ly has been impressive.

"At this time, I'm confident that we'll be able to aord investing in our sta," he said.

Spicuzza proposed a "double step bump to every teacher working with us in the district." Depending on what the teacher currently makes, increases are in the range of just un – der 3% to around 5%.

The board is cognizant of the challenges faced by the district with large neighboring school districts on both sides of the Wiscon –

sin-Minnesota border.

Board member Tanya Holub said the dis – trict last looked at its salary scale pre-COVID to make sure it remained competitive.

"It was right before COVID we redid this. Our goal was to make us competitive with the communities around us, including with the communities in Minnesota, kind of the range of where our teachers go. We looked at infla – tion. We looked at cost of living," she said. "We have to continue to increase our wages for our sta. It sounds like we're going to be able to aord it. It's really worthwhile to in – vest in our teachers." Vicki Rudolph agreed. "If we can find it in the finances to do this, I think that's great. That's what we task Rick and our finance department with. If they've been able to come up with numbers that work, we can do that. It looks good," she said.

Board President Mike Matzek said pas –

sage of the $15 million referendum for fa – cility improvements helped make it possible also.

“This is another good news piece that we're able to give a double step to all li – censed sta here. It kind of goes back to our commitment we're trying to make as a board and administration to do better at this part of our business, increasing teachers' pay. It re – ally helps that the community supported the referendum. That's a huge piece. We can take that money to fix our facilities without dip –

ping into Fund 10 (the district operating bud – get)," he said. "It started setting the table for what else can we do? This is step one now. How can we continue to do this? We want to show we’re investing in the people who are investing their time in educating our stu – dents. I don't for a second doubt we're done here." The plan will cover pay for all currently hired and returning licensed sta.

Insurance savings

The school board approved a plan that will limit its employee health insurance increase at 2% this coming year. The vote was unani –

mous, with Board Vice President Steve Size – more abstaining, since his wife teaches in the district.

The district could have seen a 9% in –

crease. Under a three-year plan, district in – creases would be capped at a maximum of 7% in year two and 9% in year three.

"Overall, we've been hit with 16% in – creases historically," said Spicuzza. "A 2% increase is very tame at this point." The district's increased liability could have been more than $250,000, and Spicuzza said the increase will be less than $100,000.

"Have we ever explored any other op – tions or is this our best option for insurance?" asked Rudolph.

Spicuzza said the agreement with SF In – surance and Health Partners precludes them for "shopping around while we have a cur – rent agreement in place." "At this point, many of the districts in the western side of Wisconsin have been partner –

ing with Health Partners. Some of the big – ger districts have gone to self-insured. For Prescott, I don't think we have the number of sta to do that. One or two major incidents could really hurt us. Health Partners has been very accessible to us. We haven't had any major complaints," said Spicuzza. "I would say Health Partners and SF Insurance have done a remarkable job for us to this point." This year, the district cap was 9%, and Spicuzza pointed out the company came in at 2%.

On the dental side, the board also ratified a plan where the district would self-insure, which would mean a small savings for em – ployees on the plan. A single plan monthly would drop from $56 to $53 and a family plan drops from $166 to 157 by self-insuring the dental side.

Spicuzza said that the amount insurance pays for dental is fixed, so there's no danger of catastrophic occurrences which would hurt the district. Premiums would stay in a fund in the district. If money isn't paid out in that pe – riod, funds stay with the district and interest can be earned. Any interest gains would stay in that dental insurance fund.

"Unlike health insurance where there could be an emergency and you could have life or death situations, dental is very specif – ic on what's being covered," said Spicuzza. "It is a way that SF Insurance has seen many districts go."

April 26, 2022