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School district considers revamping the way it pays employees

Thursday, January 24, 2008 | 7:32 p.m. CST; updated 3:17 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This article was corrected to say that 25 of 70 new positions in the district are non-teaching.

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools administrators are seriously considering a recommendation to change the way every employee is paid — a move that would cost the district more money.

This comes at a time when the district has a $10.3 million deficit and is asking for that much in a property tax increase set to go before voters in the April 8 election.

Although a firm figure won’t be available until Monday afternoon, the change would likely cost significantly more than $5 million and as much as $12 million, according to Mary Laffey, assistant superintendent of human resources for the district.

Overall, total costs for salaries and benefits would increase; however, in specific cases costs might decrease.

The recommendation to change how employees are paid was made by Management Advisory Group, Inc., which was hired to evaluate the way the district compensates its roughly 2,000 employees, including teachers, administrators, nurses, the superintendent and other positions.

“MAG is saying that in order to have just and competitive wages in the district, we are currently not paying enough,” Laffey said.

If the district accepts the advisory group’s recommendation and its additional costs, the changes will not take place immediately.

“In light of our current budget situation, we don’t have those kinds of resources,” Laffey said. “We would have to probably develop an implementation plan that would stretch over three or four years.”

Laffey said employee salary and benefit costs make up about 82 percent of the district’s total budget. “Our biggest expense in the district is people,” said Columbia School Board member Steve Calloway.

In the beginning of this 2007-2008 academic year, the school board added 70 positions, 25 of which are not teaching jobs, and increased base pay for teachers by $1,000.

The Management Advisory Group recommendation to revamp the way all district employees are paid came in October. Advising against the district’s current method of determining salaries, the advisory group recommended new starting salaries for each district position, as well as different rewards for years spent working for the district.

The advisory group’s recommendation was based on a comparison of employee compensation in Columbia with compensation in other similar districts in Missouri and nationwide and the responsibilities of each position.

Currently, base pay for administrators and teachers is determined by years of relevant experience and education. For example, if a teacher and principal have a master’s degree and 12 years of relevant experience, they receive the same base pay.

The district awards additional salary beyond base pay. Laffey said that, for instance, building size and number of assistant principals are taken into account when determining a principal’s additional salary.

Laffey emphasized that the district has not yet decided to change the way it pays its employees. Right now, 13 volunteer groups of district employees are reviewing the recommendation and making comments. The groups have a Feb. 1 deadline.

Based on those reviews, the district may tweak the Management Advisory Group’s recommendation — or not use it at all.


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