Updated 10:19 p.m.
The Hays USD 489 school board, in a special meeting over the noon hour Thursday, voted to end a raise given without board approval this summer to 112 classified employees, but those employees will not have to return the money already paid.
The motion to give that direction was initially made by Board President Mandy Fox early in the meeting, but that vote was tied 3-3 with Fox and board members Lance Bickle and Greg Schwartz voting in favor. Board members Luke Oborny, Sophia Rose Young and Mike Walker voted against, all saying they thought the raise should continue. Board member Paul Adams was absent.
Oborny said he had received an email from a classified employee that included the memo from the district about the mistaken raise and how it would affect that person’s wages.
“This person has worked in our district for years, eight-plus years, and it’s still less than what I start employees at today at Nex-Tech,” Oborny said, which prompted a lot of murmurs of agreement from the standing-room only audience.
“Today, I cannot vote to decrease. If you want to leave the 4.6 until we sort everything else out, I will support that. Anything that involves a decrease in pay, I will vote against,” he said.
After about 35 minutes of discussion and a couple other failed motions, Walker suggested reconsidering Fox’s motion. He changed his vote, giving it passage.
Traditionally, although not legally obligated to do so, the board gives classified employees a raise equal to that of teachers, which is negotiated with the Hays chapter of the National Education Association. Those discussions are at impasse, however, over the amount of the raise.
Those affected by the mistaken raise include 13 administrators — the superintendent, principals and assistant principals — and seven directors of maintenance, transportation, nutrition, finance and technology. The majority of the group includes bus drivers, secretaries, cooks, technicians and early childhood staff.
The custodial staff was not included. Those employees are represented by Service Employees International Union and negotiated their own contract, which included a 4.6 percent raise.
At one point, Waker made a motion to stop the raise for the administration and the directors until the KNEA impasse is resolved, but keep the raise for the remaining classified staff. That motion failed for lack of a second.
Superintendent John Thissen said the classified staff raise was an administrative mistake discovered just last week, and while he didn’t go into detail of how it happened, he shouldered the blame.
“Any mistake such as this is ultimately my problem,” he said after the meeting. “It’s my responsibility.”
Thissen’s resignation, effective June 30, was accepted in the Oct. 23 personnel transactions, but he said after the meeting it’s a personal decision to be closer to his father, who has had recent health issues, and his grandchildren.
Likewise, Thissen said, the error had nothing to do with Tracy Kaiser’s resignation as executive director of finance. Her resignation was accepted in the Sept. 24 personnel transactions and was effective Oct. 15, prior to the discovery of the mistake.
Thissen said he was limited in what he could do to rectify the mistake, so he brought it to the board.
“In this particular case, when it was identified, the only option administration had last week would have been to pull the 4.6 raise. That was the only option I have authority to do,” Thissen said.
Pulling the raise would have included employees paying back the extra money through a temporary wage reduction. None of the board members said they wanted that to happen.
The district did include in its 2018-19 budget a 4.6 percent average raise for all staff, so continuing it would not negatively affected the budget, Thissen said in response to a question from Oborny.
A classified staff raise will likely be given once the impasse with KNEA is cleared. The district is offering the teachers’ association an average 3.2 percent raise. The district and KNEA representatives will meet with a federal mediator Nov. 8.
Walker said after the meeting he wasn’t sure why the board didn’t just vote to give the raise, but indicated some other issue had arisen after the budget was finalized.
“When we went into negotiations, we had a certain dollar value in mind that made sense with the entire budget. Then when we realized that our dollar figures were a bit off, it kind of threw all our plans out of whack,” he said.
Oborny also suggested something similar in his comments during the meeting.
“I feel as a board we kind of knew what was going on,” he said.
He noted the budget included the 4.6 average raise across the board, and that figure was successfully negotiated with SEIU.
“Everything seemed to be going great until we had a math error in August. That’s when the train seemed to derail,” he said.
“I’m confused and I don’t understand why we’re backpedaling,” he said. “We put it in the budget. I’m lost as what’s changing.”
Walker, after the meeting, said some of things that arose made the expected dollar value less clear.
“There were expenses and programs that we wanted to support, so it muddied the water,” Walker said.