Litchfield School Board approved new pay structures last week for two programs that fall under Community Education oversight.
Community Education Director Grant Solem approached the board in October with a request to alter wage structure for the Dragon Kids Club after school and the swimming lessons programs. Solem sought pay rate increases in the two areas as part of the department’s recruitment and retention efforts.
Some board members voiced strong support for increasing wages, especially for a couple of the lead positions in the Dragon Kids Club. They joined Superintendent Beckie Simenson in asking Solem to research wages for similar positions at area school districts and to bring back recommendations.
“It’s hard to get people here,” Simenson said at the time. “We’re seeing that more and more. If you’re open to that (restructuring), come up with a recommendation.”
So, Solem was back last week with his recommendations.
In addition to pay schedule restructuring, Solem presented a new employee structure for the Dragons Kids Club staff, including creation of site supervisor and lead aide positions.
The site supervisor, Solem explained in a memo to the board, would be responsible for planning classroom times while students were present. This would include a detailed schedule for days off from school when students spend the whole day in the DKC classroom, for instance during the so-called MEA break in October each year.
During the summer, the supervisor will plan field trips, activities for students and schedule student drop off and pick up times at Community Education programs.
Kelsi Hogg, who has been working in the program, was recommended for hiring as the supervisor, with an increase of $2 per hour over her current wage. Hogg already has been handling many of the tasks covered in the site supervisor job description, Solem said.
The DKC lead aide position, for which Solem recommended the hiring of Wanda Willner, will be responsible for ensuring that all program employees follow rules and guidelines in the classrooms. The aide will create the staff schedule and be a substitute teacher in the program if a substitute can’t be found.
Willner has been working in the lead aide position since Oct. 17, Solem said. She will receive a wage increase to $15.50 per hour, and a 3% increase on Oct. 17, 2023, after a year in the position.
Additionally, Solem created a pay structure with annual increases, beginning at $11.25 per hour and escalating to $15 in the fourth year.
The new pay structure will lead to an estimated $9,000 in increased payroll, Solem said. However, it’s hoped that better staffing will mean an increase in enrollment, which would bring a corresponding increase in fees that could cover the increased payroll.
Solem said his recommendations represented a “little bit of overhaul” but it was an attempt at “trying to make the best fit for what we can offer, and what other neighboring schools do.”
In surveying other area after-school programs, Solem said he found the Dragons Kids Club to be the smallest in the area. Annandale has about 300 students enrolled and Dassel-Cokato about 180, while operating two different sites, both at capacity. He indicated that could be a sign that there’s room to grow the Litchfield program.
Lifeguard pay buoyed
A similar dynamic of increased pay for staff leading to greater program participation is at play in the Community Education aquatics program, Solem indicated, which led to his request for a new pay structure for lifeguards and Water Safety Instructors.
After surveying pay at area school districts and reviewing with the Litchfield pool manager, Solem said, he created a wage scale that should be more competitive.
Current wages at Litchfield range from $10.33-$12.22 per hour for lifeguards and $11.44-$13.27 for WSIs. Dassel-Cokato and Hutchinson school districts offer starting pay that’s greater than the top wage in Litchfield, between 70 cents and $1.75 more at the WSI level.
Litchfield’s current pool staff, including the pool manager, includes 14 members, eight of whom are WSI certified and six of them lifeguard certified.
Solem’s recommendation called for an increase in starting wage to $13.50 per hour for lifeguards and $15 per hour for WSI instructors. The scale then goes up by 50 cents per year through the fifth year.
Lessons fees increase
As part of his presentation, Solem also recommended — and received board approval for — an increase in fees for private swimming lessons. The district’s current private lesson fee is $83 for four 30-minute sessions. That rate will increase to $115, or $28.75 per 30-minute session.
Semi-private lessons also will increase from $100 to $130 for four sessions.
Other lessons also will see small increases, ranging from $2 to $5 more.
“These prices will be similar to our neighboring towns, but the amount of pool time that we offer is much higher,” Solem wrote in a memo to the board. “This would make our prices similar, but our families will be getting a high quality of teaching. This increase will also enable the program to continue to be financially stable and encourage staff retention.”