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Berkeley Board of Education OKs staff allowances

June 08, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Employees of Berkeley County Schools will find themselves with a few extra hundred dollars on Dec. 1, thanks to a salary supplement that is a bonus in everything but name.

At their meeting Monday night, members of the Berkeley County Board of Education unanimously approved giving employees a "housing allowance" that will be based on experience.

Professional employees, such as teachers and principals, will receive $400 for zero to nine years of experience; $450 for 10 to 19 years of experience; and $500 for 20 or more years of experience.

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Service personnel, such as secretaries, bus drivers and custodians, will receive $300 for zero to nine years of experience; $350 for 10 to 19 years of experience and $400 for 20 or more years of experience.

The allowance program will cost the school system an estimated $797,376 a year, including money that must be paid to Social Security, retirement funds and the Worker's Compensation program, said Assistant Superintendent Jim Welton.

"In the future this might be more. We hope anyway," said Board of Education President Bill Queen, who said he had hoped to set aside $1 million for the allowances. Keeping the school system's budget in the black prevented that, he said.

Board member Todd Beckwith asked why the allowance was not called a salary increase or Christmas bonus.

State regulations only allow for one "bonus" to be paid a year and it is related to employees' sick leave, Welton said.

Calling it a housing allowance is appropriate, Superintendent Manny Arvon said.

"I think it's a fact that is costs more to live here than other sections of West Virginia," he said.

The allowance is a way to give employees extra money in their pockets, Arvon said, especially at a time when many can use it - the holidays.

He echoed Queen's hope, however, that the allowance can be increased in the future.

"We're fooling ourselves thinking this is a total fix," he said.

Welton said most of the money will come from a federal settlement of $1.3 million the county received for under-funded Medicaid services. Although the settlement only covers the next two years worth of allowances, they must continue to be paid afterward.

Once an employee is given a benefit it cannot be taken away unless county voters reject an excess levy, Welton said.

Making the allowance less for service employees was a difficult, but justifiable, decision, Arvon said.

The average service employee's salary is just 52 percent of the average professional employee's salary, but the gap in allowances is not as great, he said.

"We value all of our employees," Arvon said.

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