COLUMBIA — Tonight the Columbia School Board will see, for the first time, the dollars and cents of what possible cuts could save the district.
The drive to cut $5 million from the district’s budget is a result of the board’s decision to overspend by $10.3 million this year. The money, drawn from district reserves this year to hire 70 additional employees and to increase teacher base pay, will be an ongoing expense. The specter of the lack of funds is affecting teachers. In that context, the Columbia Community Teachers Association will tonight make its yearly teacher salary recommendation to the board.
In the past, CCTA has regularly asked for an increase in teacher base pay. But based on previous CCTA meetings this year, it is likely the group will not ask for increased teacher pay. CCTA President Howard Clark did not confirm this possibility.
But this doesn’t mean all Columbia teachers are satisfied with their salaries. Rather, teachers have discussed at CCTA meetings and elsewhere what they can do to help the district weather its overspending problem. Not asking for an increase in base pay is one way to reduce the number of employee wants the district has to balance with its now limited budget.
“What teachers have to do is show that they support the levy,” Clark said in an interview last week, referring to a $10.3 million property tax increase before district voters April 8. “In supporting the levy, I think basically it helps the board of education determine what kinds of cuts will be made.”
Last March, CCTA recommended that the board raise teacher base pay by $1,500, or 4.6 percent of a starting teacher’s salary in the district. The board responded by giving teachers a $1,000 raise and hiring 70 additional employees. As far as he can remember, Clark said, CCTA has never recommended the district hire more teachers.
To cover its planned overspending, the board put the levy increase on the spring ballot; for district voters, it will be an additional 54 cents per $100 of assessed property, or an extra $102.60 for a $100,000 home. But there is a chance the community will not support it. Teachers know this, and that fact has colored the CCTA’s recommendations and discussion.
At the CCTA’s Feb. 5 meeting, teachers listened to Superintendent Phyllis Chase talk about the district’s money shortage. Chase said that if the tax levy increase is approved, the money would be used to cover the district’s annual costs as of this year. It would not be used to pay teachers more, she said, nor would it pay for more school supplies, hire more employees or change the way employees are paid.
After Chase’s presentation, one of dozens she has made to groups in the district, teachers discussed the levy and its affect on them.
“No, it’s not going to help us as far as our pocketbooks,” one teacher said. “But if we don’t get it, it’s sure going to hurt us.”
Two days after Chase’s presentation to CCTA, the group’s salary committee met to edit the recommendations it will make to the board tonight. At that Feb. 7 meeting, the drafted “priority recommendations” to the board were the following:
- Funding the salary schedule should be an annual budget priority.
- A multiyear compensation strategy should be used to bring salaries up to a competitive level.
- The board should continue to maintain employee benefits at the current level or better for full-time employees.
There was no listed recommendation for teachers to be paid more.
According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a Columbia Public Schools teacher in 2007 was paid on average $46,739 and an administrator on average $84,331.
“Teachers know that they aren’t going to be paid elaborate salaries,” Clark said in an interview in early February. “It’s a consideration that you make when you think about beginning a teaching career. Most teachers don’t make six figures, unless you are a superintendent or some top-level administrator.”
Lately, the district has been taking a critical look at how it pays employees. The $1,000 raise was given to teachers to attract better job applicants to the district, said Mary Laffey, assistant superintendent of human resources.
She and many other administrators see the district in competition for teachers with 12 other Missouri public school districts, which resemble Columbia in population size and income. Administrators compare how much Columbia pays its employees with those districts, including North Kansas City and nearby Blue Springs, as well as Francis Howell in the St. Louis area.
Out of the 13 districts, Columbia is second to last in average salaries for teachers and administrators. The St. Joseph district has the lowest average salaries of that group of districts.
“The issue is how do we pay for the increases,” Clark said in February, in a discussion about whether Columbia teachers should be paid more. “I don’t think the district has that kind of money.”
At tonight’s meeting, board members will not vote on CCTA’s recommendations nor will they vote on the laundry list of cuts the district could make to save money. Each possible cut in the list will come with an estimate made by Director of Business Services Linda Quinley and her staff of how much the cuts could save the district.
It is likely the board will make budget decisions based on those estimates at its March 20 work session, which has been moved from morning to evening to accommodate more members of the public.