​Campaigning for the proposed Heber Springs School District (HSSD) 3.6 millage increase began in earnest at this year’s Open House. Teachers handed out a flier that compared HSSD’s base teacher salaries and the millage rates to that of other area school districts. HSSD is last in both categories.
​Arkansas election code 7-1-111(3)(b) states, “It is unlawful for a public servant or a governmental body to expend or permit the expenditure of public funds to support or oppose a ballot measure.” Section 2 of the same statute defines public funds to mean “funds, moneys, receivables, grants, investments, instruments, real or personal property, or other assets, liabilities, equities, revenues, receipts, or disbursements belonging to, held  by, or passed through a governmental body.”
​When asked who paid for the flier that was distributed by school employees, Superintendent Dr. Alan Stauffacher stated that the printer had paid for it. When pressed more as to who paid for the flier, he corrected himself and stated, “They had found out that they had to have a committee formed.” The flier wasn’t illegal in that the school district can give out information on a proposed millage increase.
​Stauffacher stated that a committee had been formed and he pointed to the “Paid for by” printing on a new brochure that the school district is now distributing from the administration office and the other reception areas in the schools. The name of the committee is Commission to Bring Heber Back. Stauffacher stated that Stan Lee had formed the committee and that he had collected $2,000 in contributions to have the brochure designed and printed by a printer.
​Mr. Lee was contacted by Stauffacher and The Sun Times over a week ago. He has not returned the call to the paper.
​The Sun Times contacted Graham Sloan, the Executive Director of the Arkansas Ethics Commission. The Commission is responsible for enforcing the election laws in the state. When Sloan was told that the new brochure contained the words “Vote Yes”, he explained, “No governmental entity can have on its premises any campaign materials that are favorable to a ballot question during an election. A millage increase is a local-option ballot question.”
​A school district is defined as a governmental entity according to Section 800(f) of the Commission’s regulatory statutes. Sloan also explained that if a threshold of $500 is passed in collecting contributions made to a committee or purchasing campaign materials either by a committee or an individual, they must file paperwork with the Arkansas Ethics Commission to register the committee or the individual. The individual or the committee is required to file financial paperwork ten days prior to election day listing all contributions over $50, the names of individuals who contributed, their addresses, the amount they contributed and all expenditures made with the contributions. An individual who spends their own money to purchase campaign materials to promote a local-option ballot question is also required to file financial reports showing all contributions and expenditures. Voters have the right to view the financial reports prior to election day to see who is advocating for or defeat of a local-option ballot question.
​The Arkansas Ethics Commission lists all registered committees and individuals on their website as well as all financial reports that are filed for voters to view the information. To date the Commission to Bring Heber Back local-option ballot question committee is not listed on the Commission’s website. September 9th is the date that the 10-day financial report is required to be filed with the Commission.
​Dr. Stauffacher asked to be placed on the agenda of the Cleburne County Republican Committee and this past Tuesday night he presented the reasons why a 3.6 millage increase was necessary for a $4,000 increase to teacher’s base salary and a 10% increase to all other support staff. Stauffacher and HSSD Board of Directors haven’t decided as to the increase administrative personnel are to receive.
​The primary reasons provided by Stauffacher’s presentation advocating for the millage increase for salary increases for HSSD staff are: 1) Unfunded state mandates; 2) Increases in state support are not keeping pace with a 2-3% annual cost of living adjustment; 3) An increase of 1.6% is needed to maintain state required salary schedules; 4) if the millage increase passes, HSSD will still be below the state school district average millage of 37.74; and, 5) district performance.
​For the school year 2017-18, the state has mandated that the starting base salary for a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree and zero years of experience should be $31,400 and for a Master’s degree and zero experience, the starting base salary should be $36,050. For the school year 2018-19, the starting base salary for a Bachelor’s degree will go up to $31,800 and for the Master’s degree, $36,350. Currently, the starting base salary for a Bachelor’s degree, zero experience is $31,550 and for the Master’s degree, its $35,750. HSSD’s Bachelor’s starting base salary is a little more than the state mandate, but in 2018-19 school year, it will be under by $250. HSSD’s Master’s starting base salary is below the state mandate by $300 and it will fall further under the 2018-19 mandate to $600.
​Stauffacher stated that the school district is losing teachers to other area school districts that have higher starting base salaries. The new brochure lists seven other area school districts with their starting base salaries from the highest to the lowest: Rose Bud, $35,250; Pangburn, $34,000; Guy Perkins, $32,500; Quitman, $32,500; West Side, $32,250; Concord, $32000; and, Heber Springs, $31,550.
​It should be noted that it is the Board of Directors of HSSD that sets the starting base salaries. They can do this every year to ensure that the starting base salaries set by the district are following state mandates. It should also be noted that a $4,000 increase to the base salaries for all HSSD teachers will make HSSD competitive with Rose Bud and more competitive than all other area districts listed in the brochure. Stauffacher doesn’t seem to be too concerned that the Classified or district support staff salaries are competitive with other districts. Stauffacher stated, with no documented proof, that he had determined that a $4,000 increase to teacher salaries equated to a 10% increase for all other staff.
​Stauffacher is omitting pertinent total compensation information concerning Licensed (teacher’s) and Classified benefits that taxpayer dollars pay as well. Currently, taxpayers pay $1,884/year in health care premiums for all employees. Additionally, taxpayers pay the FICA and Medicare tax, 7.65% of the base salary, and a retirement contribution that is 14% of base salary for all employees. Total compensation that taxpayers’ dollars pay for a Bachelor’s starting salary is $40,265. Total compensation for a Master’s degree is $45,374.
​With every salary increase, HSSD must pay more in benefit costs. At the August school board meeting, Stauffacher stated that he had forgotten about this and that even if the millage passed, they would have to “find an additional $96,000 to fund the increase in benefits.”
​When salary mid-points for all teacher salaries are compared across area school districts that are listed in the new brochure promoting the millage increase, HSSD goes from last to a ranking of 7 in the listed districts. What this means is that as a teacher moves through the 22-step pay scales for all Licensed teachers, HSSD begins to pay better and total compensation increases.
​For example, the starting base salary for a Bachelor degreed teacher with zero experience is Step 1 in the Bachelor Degree pay scale. Next year the teacher will move to Step 2 and receive an automatic increase of $510 through Step 5. Beginning at Step 6 through 9, a Bachelor-degreed teacher will get a $550 automatic pay increase. Beginning at Step 10 through Step 18, a Bachelor-degreed teacher will get a $600 automatic pay increase. Beginning at Step 19 through 21, a Bachelor-degreed teacher will get a $650 automatic pay increase. At Step 22, the teacher receives a $1,040 increase. In other words, teacher salaries are not stagnant.
​As far as a guaranteed 2-3% cost of living increase, there’s no guarantee that happens for anyone. Twenty-two percent of persons living in Heber Springs are 65 years of age or over. That’s approximately 1,600 persons receiving Social Security benefits. Senior citizens just got a 0.3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) approved for 2017. The last COLA for seniors in 2015 was 0% and the one before that was 1.7% in 2014. Teacher retirement has a 2-3% COLA, but this isn’t guaranteed for working teachers. If a 1.6% increase is needed to follow state mandated minimum salaries, then an increase of 1.7% COLA – the same seniors received in 2014 -  would be adequate.
​It was pointed out to Stauffacher that most persons over 65 believe their property and personal taxes to be frozen for the rest of their lives. Per Judy Land, County Tax Assessor, there’s only two things that can cause a person over 65 to see a tax increase – an improvement to their property and a millage increase. Most persons over 65 are on fixed incomes. Stauffacher was asked how person’s over 65 and on a fixed income should vote for the millage increase.
​“They should vote no,” replied Stauffacher.