The Sheridan County School District 1 Board of Trustees approved changes to employee compensation but moved the vote on a new salary schedule back one month during its regular meeting Tuesday evening.

The compensation adjustments come on the heels of discussions during a Monday board work session about five recommendations from the interest-based negotiations committee during several meetings over the course of this school year.

SCSD1 will spend $215,000 — a value near the high end of what SCSD1 business manager Jeremy Smith said he felt comfortable with during Monday’s board work session; he said $265,000 might be too much — toward the IBN recommendations for the 2019-20 school year. The money will go toward incentivizing instructors to receive additional college certifications and degrees; adjusting employee retirement payments; and granting a salary step to employees who have had their pay frozen during the past three years.

SCSD1 superintendent Pete Kilbride said the board moved the approval of a new salary schedule to its June meeting to make sure all employees were up to speed with the new adjustments. Kilbride and Smith will visit with employees on both sides of the school district over the next month to answer lingering questions and clarify any remaining concerns.

“We know the old system’s not working, so we definitely want to go to a new salary schedule, but we want to make sure that everybody understands it first,” Kilbride said. If approved next month, the salary schedule will begin during the 2019-20 school year.

With the board approving the IBN recommendations Tuesday — by a 4-1 vote, with trustee Penny Barkan representing the opposed vote — SCSD1 employees will now pay 3.18 percent of their contributions into the Wyoming Retirement System. Previously, the school district covered all retirement contributions.

With the new salary schedule, though, there will be a corresponding increase to base salaries to make up for the bump in retirement contributions.

“I think (we) are in position now where we’re going to start to put a lot more money onto the base to be able to become more competitive with these other (school) districts,” Kilbride said.

Some employees have had their salaries frozen — meaning they did not receive steps, an annual pay increase for every year of experience working in the school district — since the 2015-16 school year, and Kilbride believes the one-time increase for the 2019-20 school year will help.

“It’s been tough, because obviously the Legislature has less money to operate with (in recent years),” Kilbride said. “… We still have to educate our kids to a high level. We haven’t changed how we educate them, so the expectation is still the same. ‘How do we do that?’ To me it’s going to be very important to be able to give a step.”

The changes relate to a recent report from the National Education Association. According to the report, Wyoming ranks 18th out of 50 states in average teacher starting salary at $39,249.

According to the NEA, the national average teacher salary, adjusted for inflation, has decreased 4.5 percent over the past decade. In Wyoming, salaries have decreased 10.1 percent in value once adjusted for inflation during the same timespan.

Kilbride said teacher salaries are a significant topic of conversation in general.

“It’s a huge concern because we want to reward people for the hard work that they do,” Kilbride said. “We know they have a choice in where they teach.”

The SCSD1 base salary is currently sixth-lowest among Wyoming’s 48 school districts. Kilbride stressed the importance of competitive salaries with nearby school districts, especially Sheridan County School District 2.

“A lot of our staff members actually live in Sheridan, and to be able to go there and make $4,500 more per year starting salary — it makes a difference,” Kilbride said. “They have a great school district, we have a great school district, and we want to try to incentivize people to stay with us or to come out here.”

Kilbride said the issue for SCSD1 resides not in recruiting qualified teachers but in retaining them.

“We can get them here, but we need to keep them here,” Kilbride said.

With the changes Tuesday and likely adjustments next month, SCSD1 could have increased its likelihood of holding on to quality instructors.