Arkansas School Converts Utilities Savings to Teacher Raises

The Batesville School District in Batesville, Ark., isn’t the first school district to save money on utilities by switching to solar power. It may, however, be the among the first to pass those savings directly to teachers.

In 2017, Batesville High School installed hundreds of solar panels into an unused field behind the school. It also installed a solar canopy spanning across the entire front of the building for a total of about 1,500 panels. This source of solar power has saved the district more than $600,000 in utilities costs. It also converted the district’s annual budget deficit of roughly $250,000 into a $1.8 million surplus, and the district is on track to save a minimum of $2.4 million during the next 20 years.

The district’s average teacher salary previously ranked second-to-last in that region of the state, with an average of about $45,000. Superintendent Michael Hester said he was losing teachers and having trouble hiring new ones. “People aren’t in this business, obviously, for the money,” he said, “but they should not have a vow of poverty to teach, either.”

The district chose to funnel its financial savings into its greatest resource: teachers. The district has offered bonuses two years in a row and raised teachers’ salaries by up to $15,000 each, making it one of the best-paying districts in the county.

“Let’s use that money to start pumping up teachers’ salaries,” said Hester. “It’s the way we’re going to attract and retain staff. And it’s the way we’re going to attract and retain students in this day and age of school choice.”

Jeanne Roepcke, a teacher in the Batesville School District who received a significant raise, is understandably elated. “No, it would not have been one of the things that I thought,” she said. “But, what a great idea. The sun is going to be shining anyway, so why not cash in on that? It’s good to know that they care about us. It feels really, really good.”

About 7,300 schools around the country use some form of solar power, up 81% in the last five years.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning. He can be reached at [email protected].