Today's Question: Teacher salary debate likely to heat up again

Monday, May 11, 2009 | 11:06 a.m. CDT; updated 4:38 p.m. CDT, Monday, May 11, 2009

COLUMBIA — Budget concerns are nothing new for Columbia Public Schools. Neither is the debate about the best way to handle teachers’ salaries when faced with a shortfall.

In January, interim superintendent Jim Ritter said as many as 60 jobs might be cut across the district, in and out of the classroom, in order to help make up for a projected $3.2 million budget deficit during the 2009 fiscal year.

Now Ritter is asking the Columbia School Board to give teachers a 1 percent raise. This is probably more a gesture of good will to teachers whose salaries were frozen last year than anything else, because a raise that small would add only a few hundred dollars to the yearly salary of most teachers.

According to a survey released in January, 42 percent of about 400 teachers said they would highly consider leaving the district if salaries remained frozen.

A 1 percent raise would not be an insignificant change to the district’s overall budget, though, since Ritter said 83 percent of it is spent paying for personnel.

Meanwhile, as the board considers Ritter’s proposal, Linda Quinley, the district’s director of business services, will be asking for permission to borrow money for the upcoming school year, if necessary.

Quinley listed meeting “payroll needs” as one reason borrowing money could be necessary if the district runs out of cash before receiving revenue from property taxes at the beginning of 2010.

Should the Columbia Public Schools approve a raise for teachers if the district might have to borrow money to pay for the increase?

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