A new salary schedule has been approved for employees of the Van Buren School District.

School board members voted Tuesday night to implement about $1.2 million in pay raises for the district’s 779 teachers and administrative staff.

In September, local voters approved a three-mill tax increase to help build a more competitive salary schedule as well as fund much-needed facility improvements, including replacing the district’s aging bus fleet, and updating classroom technology.

Karen Wallace of King Elementary School and Kevin Porter of Van Buren High School chaired committees to propose the new salary schedule.

“We are very fortunate to have a supportive community that wants to provide the best for our staff,” Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat told the board. “The new salary schedule will help us attract new teachers and ensure we keep the good ones we have.”

Administrative salaries were increased based on the median increase of the certified salary schedule, which was $1,258 for a 190-day employee, Jeffcoat said.

Pay for a starting teacher was increased by $1,756. A teacher can max out at $62,000.

Currently, Van Buren teachers who are early in their careers are paid at a rate that is comparable to teachers in other schools in the region,” Jeffcoat said. “As teachers gain experience, a salary gap grows where teachers in other districts are paid at a higher rate.”

He said the goal of restructuring the certified teacher salary schedule was to begin closing the gap by adding more money for teachers with higher levels of education and more years of experience.

“Therefore, experienced teachers will receive a higher increase than those new to the field,” Jeffcoat said. “By doing so, Van Buren stands to retain highly qualified and experienced faculty from year-to-year.”

School board member Carman Young pointed out the new salary schedule was one of the district’s goals when Jeffcoat was hired in 2015.

“We should have some very happy employees,” board member Candice Settle-Beshears said.

On the recommendation of Jeffcoat, the school board voted 6-0 to lease six buses a year, beginning with the 2017-18 school year.

The buses will be leased from Midwest Bus Sales for $20,000 a year per bus for three years with a bumper-to-bumper warranty for a 15,000-mile limit per year. VBSD will be responsible for maintenance.

VBSD added four new buses to its fleet this year and the board has approved the purchase of three more for 2017-18.

“The lease agreement will give us 13 new buses at the start of the 2017-18 school year,” Jeffcoat said. “At the end of the three years, we would have the option to purchase the buses or lease new ones.”

The district has 64 buses listed on its inventory, including 50 which are assigned to routes, three for trips, three as spares for trips, seven as spares and one is utilized by the Boys and Girls Club of Van Buren to take students from schools to the club after school.

Twenty-eight of the buses have more than 100,000 miles, including eight which have more than 150,000 miles. One bus has 183,000-plus miles.

The board also:

• Tabled a proposal to purchase property at 503 N. 20th St. until the current lease agreement can be reviewed.

• Approved the employment of Mark Titsworth as assistant principal at Northridge Middle School, effective July 1. The district will attempt to hire Titsworth sooner if his present employer will release him from his current contract.

• Hired Billy Milam as bus driver, effective March 1, and Stephanie Ramos as parent educator at the Crawford County Adult Education Center, effective Feb. 15.

• Granted a leave of absence for Barbara Blevins, a cook at City Heights Elementary, which began Jan. 13 and will end March 13.