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School board approves raise for district staff

SOLON– The Solon School board wrapped up another negotiation process with its faculty last Monday, May 9, unanimously approving a 3.96 percent pay raise next year for the district’s staff.
The raise was part of the master contract that must be approved every year after negotiations are conducted between the Solon Board of Education and the Solon Education Agency, which is the local organization that represents district staff in negotiations.
Solon Superintendent Sam Miller said he appreciated that an agreement was reached despite the troubling economic times that led to the district cutting $200,000 out of the general fund budget last month, reductions that included cuts to staffing. What the teachers deserved had to be balanced against this fact, he said.
“I think we struck a fair balance with paying our employees a decent increase because they do work so hard,” Miller said.
Miller said he also recommended a raise from $73,000 to $75,000 a year for Matt Townsley, the district’s director of instruction and technology, and a raise from $34,000 to $35,000 a year for board secretary Brooke Robinson. Miller said even with the increases, both positions are well below market value.
“Quite frankly, we compare very poorly in this area for these positions,” Miller said.
Although the board unanimously approved the contract this year, some board members expressed misgivings about giving a raise of this size with budget reductions coming this year and likely next year as well.
“With the economics the way they are now, this is just not a sustainable increase for us,” said board member Dean Martin. “That’s not saying we pay our staff too much, but we can’t print money and we have to pay the staff that we have.”
Board president Dave Asprey agreed.
“We’re going to continue to face challenging times in this area if these fiscal projections remain unchanged,” Asprey said.
In other news:
• The board approved the purchase of a new 84-seat bus for $89,122 dollars that will be paid for out of the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL).
The bus, which features more horsepower, a new EPA-approved engine, and the ability to stow luggage, is a replacement for one of the district’s busses that has 120,000 miles on it and is “falling apart,” according to Mike Kasparek, Director of Buildings, Grounds and Transportation for the district.
Kasparek told the board that within the next few years he wants to buy another bus of this type so Solon’s fleet can have two busses with luggage capacity in the fleet.
Superintendent Miller told the board that he has $470,000 budgeted in the district’s PPEL fund over the next three years for replacing vehicles in the district’s aging fleet. He said he would like to see some new busses, as well as some new vans and sedans that have better gas mileage when used for staff business.
• Citing the need to save money, the school board approved a five-year mowing contract for athletic fields with Quality Care of Coralville over Krafka Lawn & Landscape of Solon. The difference in bids was $3,768.65 a year, with Quality Care’s low bid coming in at $42,451.35. The contract with Quality Care, which currently mows the athletic fields for teams in Iowa City, was approved 3-1. Dean Martin was the dissenting vote.
• Julie Barrett, a Solon parent, spoke to the board during the community comment section of the meeting and requested the board take a look at the district’s Good Conduct policy as it relates to band and chorus.
Violators of the district’s good conduct policy currently are made ineligible for a portion of their extracurricular activities, be they sports or the performing arts. Barrett argued that in the case of band and chorus, this makes students miss performances during the school year that they should receive a grade for, noting that in a similar circumstance students who violated the good conduct policy would not be barred from taking a math test.
“What I would like to see is for you to take choir and band out of the good conduct rule because they are classes,” Barrett said.
Later in the meeting, several board members noted that they would be interested in possibly changing this section of the rules.
Superintendent Miller said this would be possible, but he suggested that if the rules were reviewed the board should be more deliberative and involve the community in the changes.
“To change it between now and next year is doable, but it’s not in the way I would like to see it done,” Miller said.
• Solon’s Gretchen Swan was in attendance Monday to discuss her Thirst Station business. The board is considering the approval of a pilot program that starting next year would put Swan’s water cooling Thirst Stations into all three schools. The board will discuss the approval of the program as soon as next month.
The Thirst Station is a cross between a drinking fountain and a vending machine, and features cool, filtered water without the bottle. The current plan calls for the stations to offer flavored drinks as well after hours in the middle school and all day in the high school.