FRANKFORT - Kentucky's roughly 100,000 teachers and administrative staff will get an automatic pay raise in each of the next two years - even if their school districts can't afford it.
The state's two-year spending plan, approved Monday by the Kentucky General Assembly, requires school districts to give employees a 1 percent raise in the 2015 school year and a 2 percent raise in the 2016 school year. Those raises are in addition to the district raises teachers are scheduled to get based on their district's pay schedule.
The state raises would cost about $174 million, according to budget estimates. The budget includes an extra $182 million in state money to help districts pay those raises. But that money is divided among districts according to a complex formula, and some districts might not have enough to cover the cost of the raises.
"Based on calculations that quite a number of districts have made, it will cost more to cover the pay raises than the increase they will receive," said Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association.
"In their situation it becomes another unfunded mandate."
The raises are a victory for House Democrats, who pushed to make the raises mandatory during last week's contentious budget negotiations.
Senate Republicans wanted the raises to be optional because they were concerned some districts could not pay for them.
Originally, the plan called for teachers to get a 2 percent raise in the first year. But lawmakers flip-flopped those numbers to make it easier for districts.
"It eases the pain," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. "We believe that all school districts will be able to do that with a minimum degree of difficulty."
Senate President Robert Stivers said not all districts will have enough money to pay for the raises, but noted that "it's not something they can't handle."
The Christian County Board of Education had planned to give teachers a "step increase" based on the district's salary schedule. But a mandated raise from the state was "not something we had prepared for," according to spokeswoman Heather Lancaster. She said the district would be revising its budget to plan for the raises.
In Daviess County, Superintendent Owens Saylor said he was grateful the legislature decided to mandate a 1 percent raise in the first year instead of a 2 percent raise.
"It's been a while since folks got raises, but we're glad that the decision was made to do it this way and we feel like we now will be fully able to do it without any other local support," Saylor said.