A majority of the Lawrence school district's 750 classified employees are underpaid, officials said Wednesday, and it will require about $800,000 to bring their wages to a competitive level.
In response to a California consultant's study, the school board has agreed to reorganize the classified employee system.
The project will include rewriting dozens of job descriptions and adopting a new salary structure that has fewer job titles and salary ranges.
But earmarking $800,000 this year for pay increases for secretaries, custodians, paraprofessionals, and maintenance, food service, security and technology workers will be difficult, if not impossible, officials said.
"There's no prayer," said Linda Robinson, a school board member. "You wish you could get equity in all these areas."
Board member Sue Morgan said implementing the consultant's recommendations might be accomplished over several years.
"It may take us a little while to do that," she said. "We sure have a target to shoot for and that's a good feeling."
Pat Smith, a cafeteria worker at Lawrence High School, said she would welcome a raise.
"If they could do it, great," said Smith, who has been washing dishes, preparing food or counting change in Lawrence school cafeterias for nearly a decade. "If you want to get good, quality people you need to pay a decent wage."
The divorced mother of three teenagers is in charge of preparing the salad bar at LHS. She earns less than $10 an hour, even after a 20-cent-an-hour raise this year.
She said school workers understood the district was strapped for cash, but said she believed finishing the study of classified employee compensation might at least bring the issue to the forefront.
"You've got to take steps," Smith said.
The study was conducted by Educational Management Solution of Murphys, Calif. It cost the district $36,000, including new software designed to help the district improve its management of compensation information on classified employees.
Larry Hunt, the company's chief consultant on the Lawrence project, said the study compared salaries in Lawrence schools with wages in the Baldwin, Blue Valley, De Soto, Shawnee Mission and Topeka school districts. Salary information for Douglas County, Kansas University and Cottonwood Inc. also was factored into the research project.
"With a couple exceptions," he said, "you generally fall more than 5 percent under the market."
He broke classified employee jobs into five categories: administrative services, instructional services, maintenance and operations, nutritional services and security services.
The study showed district staff in maintenance and operations, as a whole, made more than people employed in those jobs elsewhere, Hunt said. These employees made 102 percent of their peers, he said. The other categories: administrative services, 94 percent of peers; nutritional services, 89 percent of peers; instructional services, 85 percent of peers; and security services, 81 percent of peers.