School superintendent to take a voluntary pay cut

Monday, May 5, 2008 | 7:32 p.m. CDT; updated 4:34 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase says she will take a voluntary pay cut next school year.

Chase’s salary of $200,340, which includes benefits, has been under fire during recent budget reduction discussions with the school board and community members. The size of the salary cut has not yet been decided.

“In terms of finalizing it, I first have to have a discussion with my board, and I haven’t had the opportunity to do that yet formally,” Chase said.

In the months before the 54-cent tax levy was rejected by nearly 62 percent of Columbia voters, the district cut $5 million from the 2008-09 budget. Because the levy did not pass, the board has been searching for a way to cut an additional $5 million from the next school year’s budget.

“Well, I certainly think it reflects her understanding of the financial situation that the district is in,” board member Karla DeSpain said. “With the failure of the tax levy and certainly the amount of reductions we are trying to come up with in the budget, funding is extremely tight, and I appreciate her looking at that situation and offering to help ease it.”

Budget reductions that have already been approved for next year reduce employee contracts by two days. Because teacher contracts will be cut to 187 from 189 days, teacher salaries are reduced by 1 percent while administrator salaries are hit with a 0.6 percent cut.

“When you think about it, it makes sense that it would impact teachers more because their contracts are shorter,” DeSpain said.

Chase did not say if she was considering reducing her salary by the same amount teachers’ salaries have been cut.

“I think it would be a really good and symbolic thing to do,” board member Ines Segert said. “Maybe she would even consider taking more than a 1-percent cut for a very positive symbol.”

Segert and DeSpain said nothing has come to the board yet, though DeSpain said she knew Chase had been thinking about reducing her salary. Chase has a three-year contract that the board revisits and approves every year before the budget is finalized in June.

DeSpain said Chase’s salary reduction could be approved as soon as next week if she plans to present the issue at the board meeting Monday night.

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