Salary increases still on chopping block for Columbia Public School District

Thursday, June 12, 2008 | 11:15 p.m. CDT; updated 11:43 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Public School District needs to cut its budget, said Heather McArthur, senior accountant in the district’s business service department.

She advised the Columbia School Board members not to award employees any scheduled pay increases for the upcoming year.

McArthur spoke at both the Thursday morning and evening special sessions held by the board to hear public comment about the district’s draft budget for the 2008-2009 school year.

“The numbers we have on paper right now are real and everybody in the district and on the board needs to understand that cuts being made will affect us all,” she said.

McArthur was one of the four who spoke to the school board Thursday evening; seven people spoke at the morning meeting.

The board currently plans to vote on finalizing the proposed budget in their June 19 meeting. The state-mandated deadline for a final budget is June 30.

The district has $2 million more than it anticipated — instead of the $10 million deficit expected for this year, the district overspent by $8 million.

Of the unexpected $2 million, $1 million came from delinquent taxes collected within the district, Director of Business Services Linda Quinley said.

According to Quinley, budget revenues are based on what the district had collected, so unexpected income, like the delinquent taxes, can’t be counted on.

The rest of the money is unspent funds from the 2007-2008 school year.

Quinley presented two versions of the draft budget during the meeting. One version uses the money to fund the salary schedule for employees; that is, the system of pay increases based on education and years working for the district. Full-time teachers, as well as support and maintenance staff, are paid based on that schedule.

The cost of operating the salary schedule would be $1.9 million for the 2008-2009 school year, said Quinley.

The other version is identical to the first, except that it doesn’t include the cost of operating the salary schedule.

Also speaking for the second time Thursday was Oakland Junior High teacher Nick Kremer. Kremer reiterated his points from the morning meeting in favor of the salary schedule.

The salary schedule is “a contractual commitment; one made to every teacher in the district when we accepted our initial contract to work here and one that influenced our very choice to do so,” he said.

Kremer also asked the board that if they vote against operating the salary schedule that they add an addendum to teacher and staff contracts that would say if the district has enough money come December, they will go back and pay scheduled salary increases.

“It’s not one year lost; it’s 30 years pay lost,” Kremer said.

Kathy Steinhoff, vice president of the local Missouri National Educators Association, also spoke in favor of operating the salary schedule.

“We’re in the business of producing highly qualified educated students and citizens,” she said. “And to do this job effectively we need to attract and retain the best teachers and support staff. Competitive salaries are essential to this.”

Those who spoke against funding the salary schedule at the morning meeting said they were anxious salary increases would come at the cost of other employees’ jobs.

McArthur said she was worried that if the district used one-time funds again on recurring expenses, district voters wouldn’t support a future tax levy increase.

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