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Board member is ‘disgusted’ by low pay to school help

Board member asks: ‘How can anybody sit here and say they’re OK’ with the low pay?
One school retiree gets only $273 a month

A Letcher County school board member says he is “disgusted” by the wages the district pays its classified staff, and called for the state of Kentucky and the district to raise their pay to a living wage.

The remarks came during the regular February board meeting as members voted on the salary schedule for the coming year. The schedule includes an extended period between paychecks to make up for time gained by leap year. The district splits the pay employee earn during the school year into 26 biweekly checks so employees don’t have to go without during summer and Christmas breaks. But because of leap year, the district gains a week every few years that has to be made up so workers aren’t paid for time they didn’t work. To remedy that, the district surveyed employees and found they would be less impacted by waiting three weeks for one payday than by having their checks cut every payday for the next year to make up the difference.

Shawn Gilley said school board classified employees — non-teaching positions such as custodians, maintenance workers, cooks, bus drivers and others — make just $8.22 an hour to start. He told fellow board members Monday night that he didn’t think any of them would agree that is a living wage, adding he had been talking to retirees and was appalled by the amount they make for retirement.

He said one woman who retired after 21 years with the school system, told him she gets just $273 per month retirement.

“ffie lowest SSI payment is $783 a month,” he said. “If you don’t work at all, never have, you make $110 a month more than someone who gives 21 years of their life to the school district.”

Gilley said later in a telephone interview that board members make $150 per meeting – more, he said, than a classified employee makes in a week after cuts.

“For me to sit there for two hours, I make more money than they do in a week. That’s disgusting,” he said.

Gilley said he understands that budgets are tight, but said that “somebody has to get a handle on it.”

“In 1980, the average income in this state was $19,500,” Gilley said. “Right now our average classified employee starts at $11,400. After 17 years, they’ll top out at $17,000. How can anybody sit and say they’re OK with that?”

Board member Robert Kiser, who chaired the meeting Monday night, said the local board can’t do anything about it, but “I agree with you.The state needs to do something.”

Superintendent Denise Yonts said Tuesday that the district only has so much tax money to work with, and unless the state finds a way to help, raising salaries can’t be done without taking the money from something or someone else.The district will have to raise wages if the proposed minimum wage increase goes through, but she said it will hurt.

“We’ll do the math and see what that does to our budget. It will cost people their jobs, because we don’t have any more income,” Yonts said.

Gilley said the problem comes down to tax assessments, saying he believes if all property in the county were properly assessed, it would alleviate much of the problem.

Also at the meeting Monday night, Yonts told the board that 527 students attended the first day of in-person classes on Monday, a number she expects to increase as COVID-19 numbers continue to drop. She said the district currently has only one employee in quarantine, and if the numbers continue as they are the district will consider returning to in-person instruction on a four-day schedule. About a quarter of students now attend two days a week, with another quarter attending two other days, and the rest doing virtual school from home. A four-day schedule would mean more students attending four days every week, while those who choose to continue their virtual education stay home. As it is currently, Fridays are all virtual.

She said all students will attend virtually on March 4 and 5 while school staff get their second vaccine doses.

The board on Monday rehired Darrel Hall as the board attorney, Martha Whitaker as the board secretary, and Josh Richardson as the board treasurer.The board also voted to hold a public hearing in March on the proposed facilities plan. (See story on Page 16 in this week’s edition ofThe Mountain Eagle).

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