As staffing challenges continue, Ames, Ballard schools raise pay for some

Phillip Sitter
Ames Tribune

Hourly employees in Ames schools and substitute teachers and other staff at Ballard will be paid more after those districts' school boards this week approved raises — continuing the trend of schools shelling out more to entice staff to fill open positions this school year.

The raises won't necessarily solve any short-term staffing shortages caused by the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Iowa, but districts across the state have been using raises to try to address chronic staffing shortages for months.

In Ames, where hourly employees will see their pay rates rise by $1.43 an hour starting Jan. 18, the school board also unanimously voted Monday to give educational assistants a raise of $1.65 an hour.

More:Des Moines school nurse warns district to prepare for omicron-driven staffing shortages

Ames' educational assistants had been making between $11.60 and $13.60 an hour, depending on their position. The district's on-call custodians who work 20 hours a week or less had been paid $13.39 an hour, according to job openings, and full-time custodial positions were paid $13.82 an hour or more, depending on the position and the shift.

In September, the district instituted bonuses for job referral and retention to try to attract educational assistants and custodians, but the Monday meeting's agenda noted that the district "continues to struggle to hire and retain qualified support employees."

Educational assistants support students and teachers before, during and after school. Some of the assistants specialize in serving students with special needs, while others provide general supervision, serve as crossing guards or accompany students on bus rides.

The district's chief financial officer, Chris Stensland, said the district employees approximately 220 full-time equivalent hourly-paid employees and the total cost to the district of the raises will be more $538,000 a year — including just under $400,000 that's not covered by grants.

The meeting agenda noted that the cost will need to be accounted for as a recurring expense in the next fiscal year.

Ballard's school board approved raising the $11.25 base hourly pay for para-educators and $12 base hourly pay of secretaries to $13 on Monday — but officials also said they anticipate some kind of raise for all hourly staff in the future.

More:As Iowa teachers burn out, schools are recruiting, paying more for substitutes — but there aren't enough

Ballard's board also approved raising the pay rates for substitutes, including the rate for teachers already on the job who cover for colleagues.

Ames raised its substitutes' daily pay rate to $135 in November. Ballard on Monday raised its rate to $140 — also citing pay rates of $135 and $145 in North Polk and Ankeny, respectively.

The move will cost Ballard an estimated $20,000 more for substitutes per school year.

The approved $10 raise to the pay of teachers covering jobs unfilled by substitutes will cost a further estimated $4,500 a year.

The district also set its rate for substitute para-educators and secretaries at $100 a day — estimated to cost a "negligible increase because it is rare we are able to fill these postings," according to the agenda for Monday's meeting.

Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at psitter@gannett.com. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.