School Board Questions Living Wage Increase

by Reporter / Aug 06, 2015 / comments

School Board Questions Living Wage Increase

By: Tarin Nix

Española School Board members are holding firm on July 15 decision to increase all staff, permanent and substitutes, to at least 10 dollars an hour but Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez is concerned about the "unintended consequences" happening with some of the lowest paid district staff.

Since 2014, the Board has worked to raise the baseline salaries of full-time and part-time district staff to a minimum of ten (10) dollars an hour. At the same time these raises were granted to current staff, the Board decided direct administration staff to increase all substitute staff hourly amount in the Salary Schedule to ten (10) dollars an hour from seven (7) dollars per hour. This action was a 30 percent increase for District substitutes for School-Year 2015-16 and widely praised.

Although everyone has finically benefited on some level this past year, some district staff are considering transitioning from permanent to substitute staff. As Gutierrez explains, "Substitutes are not eligible by law to receive benefits and don't have to pay into the New Mexico Education Retirement Board (ERB) retirement system. If you are a district employee, you have no choice but to pay into ERB. So now some of our lower paid district employees are thinking that they will just quit and be hired as a substitute. We don't want them to quit."

Although everyone is guaranteed ten (10) dollars an hour, Gutierrez noted that the small group affected has less incentive to continue to make the nominal invest in benefits when their substitute counterparts are taking home more money.

There was some confusion from members that employees whom just benefited from a raise would forego health insurance and retirement benefits in lieu of a few extra dollars in take-home pay. Councilor Lucas Fresquez sought clarification from Gutierrez, "These individuals benefited last year from the ten (10) dollar an hour raise, so this is the same staff that is now coming back and wanting to quit? They want to give up their benefits? I am just trying to understand this." 

All members were in consensus that something must be done to address this growing concern. Gutierrez suggested, “looking into raising that group of employees to $10.25 - $10.50, so they remain in their current roles as district staff.”

School Board President Pablo Lujan noted he "would like to see what that additional cost would be so they wouldn't quit. The intention of the board is to give employees the best opportunities and that includes access to health care and a retirement plan." Lujan encouraged Gutierrez to "go back to the drawing board and figure out what it will cost for these people not to quit."  Gutierrez agreed to continue to work with Human Resources and the small group of affected employees to determine the best ways to accommodate District staff and plans to report back at the next School Board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 19 at Carlos F. Vigil Middle School at 5:30 p.m.