BETHLEHEM — The Bethlehem Central School District Board is considering a wage increase for substitute employees, who receive $10 an hour — one dollar above the current state minimum wage.
Custodians, bus attendants, aides, cafeteria staff, and substitute teachers are among those who currently receive $10 per hour. If approved by the School Board, they would receive an hourly wage increase of $1 or $2.
Based on what is being considered, substitute teachers would receive $12.00 per hour, as finding substitutes has been a difficult task at the district’s current $10.00 per hour rate, explained Chief Financial Officer Judith Kehoe during the Wednesday, March 2, School Board meeting.
Substitute Custodians would receive a wage bump to $12.00 per hour, while substitute school monitors, bus attendants, cafeteria staff and clerical workers would see their wages increase to $11.00 per hour. “Based on the regional mark, we think that wage is fair,” said Kehoe.
Raising the wages would add $28,000 to the school budget.“These [wage] increases are not reflected within budget,” explained Interim Superintendent Jody Monroe. “If it is something the board wishes to approve, we would add it later on in the budget process.”
During the Board’s February meeting, Kehoe announced that this year’s budget is in such good standing, the board is considering proposals for excess fund use, wage increases being first on the list.
The proposed wage increase follows a recent announcement from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo that the state is moving toward instituting a $15 minimum wage across the board. “Minimum wage is supposed to provide a decent minimum wage, and $9 just doesn’t do that,” said Cuomo at a Fight For 15 rally at the held at the State Capitol on Tuesday, March 15.
School Board President Matt Downey said, at minimum, he hoped the state would exempt costs of wage increases from the two percent tax cap. “It’s hard enough to stay within the two percent minimum cap even without a 20 percent increase in wage,” said Downey.
For perspective, had Cuomo’s minimum wage increase taken effect during the coming year, the consequence would be a few million dollars added to the budget, said Kehoe. “In discussions with legislators, we’ve made the case that if you are going to increase the minimum wage to please do it on a gradual level,” she said. “The impacts are not just on raising the bottom of the wage scale, it’s on adjusting everyone’s salaries to show there’s value for the work that’s being done.”
At this point, the budget faces a gap of only $361,000 – the smallest seen in many years. And, the final state aid awarded will likely be more than estimated, particularly if the governor decides to fully eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), potentially adding another several hundred thousand dollars to the district.
Last year, when the GEA was partially restored six years after it was introduced, the $2.3 million in state aid added to the budget was used to close the district’s $1.4 million budget gap and restore teaching staff levels slightly closer towards 2009 levels. In the six years that followed the GEA, hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid were lost yearly, totaling over $3 million.
This year, the School Board is accepting proposals from the various school departments on how to use this year’s extra funds. The transportation, operations and maintenance, technology, special education, athletics and student services departments have each presented their proposals already.
During the next School Board meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, April 5, the K-12 curriculum department will present its proposal. A week later, at the Tuesday, April 13, meeting, the board will discuss the budget, before adopting it during its meeting on Tuesday, April 19.