When school starts in early August, Sarasota County Schools’ lowest-paid employees will begin reaping the benefits of a new, statewide minimum-pay plan written by legislators in Tallahassee to help in recruiting and job retention.
Superintendent Dr. Brennan Asplen told School Board members earlier this summer that progress in hiring for the coming academic year is going well, and that he hopes to have as many openings as possible filled by the first day of school.
Helping the school district’s efforts, particularly in the lowest end of the pay scale, was action taken by the School Board in June, when members unanimously approved a $15 an hour minimum wage to take effect on July 1.
All school districts statewide were required to raise their minimum pay to that point before the 2023 fiscal year began on Oct. 1 to help with recruiting and hiring.
As several other districts in Florida have already done, School Board members in June made sure that happened three months early.
“It’s a very good thing,’’ said Board Chair Jane Goodwin.
Florida’s minimum wage is mandated to move to $15 an hour by 2026.
For the lowest-paid non-instructional employees in the Sarasota district, the move to $15 an hour represents as much as a 5% boost from $14.36 an hour.
“In the summer, as you know, we hire a lot of people and hiring is going very well,’’ he told the school board on June 26 as they met off-site in Longboat Key. “We started hiring earlier this year so that we could pick up those very best teachers and other employees. So that’s going great. ‘’
Asplen said job fairs were planned throughout the summer.
“Our goal, obviously especially in the instructional areas is to have no vacancies whatsoever once the school year starts and hopefully we’ll get to that point,’’ he said.
In early July, the school districts job board listed 186 openings out of a staffing level of about 5,300 employees. Of those openings, 37 fell in the non-instructional category that holds most of the lowest-paid positions, such as food-service workers and custodial help. On July 7, there were 144 openings in the instructional or certified category.
On the other end of pay spectrum, the school board also renewed Asplen contract in late June, granting him a 3% raise in base salary to $227,000.
Along with his base salary, Asplen’s contract calls for a $500 a month car allowance; $400 a month in unreimbursed business expenses; $20,500 deposited annually into a qualified retirement account and $50 000 in life insurance.
By the end of September, Asplen and members of the school board will discuss goals and objectives that are tied to an additional $15,000 in performance-based bonuses. Those metrics are expected to be hammered out by Sept. 30.
“He came in under extraordinary circumstances,’’ Board Member Shirley Brown said. “There was a community and a school district that was a little bit in chaos, and then, oop, we added COVID to it. So you’ve had your hands full.’’
Asplen said he was excited about the future.
“It’s all about helping our students be successful,’’ he said. “And giving them opportunities as they graduate from our school system.’’
Goodwin said she thought stable leadership either from the office of the superintendent or in a school principal’s office is an important thing.
“That’s one thing we don’t have to worry about with a new board coming in the fall,’’ she said.
Asplen will mark his second anniversary with the school district on Aug. 10. The former deputy superintendent in charge of academic and student services in the St. Johns County School District, was selected by the board in mid-July 2020 after a monthlong search.
He replaced Misti Corcoran, who served as interim schools chief, and who is retiring this year, following the firing of Todd Bowden in November, 2019.