Columbia Public School District Career Ladder program budget increased

Friday, July 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A program that rewards local teachers for their achievements received an additional $187,000 this year from the Columbia Public School District and the state. 

The Career Ladder program is a way to reward the district's master teachers, or those who have mastered their craft and meet certain guidelines, said Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education at Columbia Public Schools. Teachers and professional staff, excluding administrators, who spend at least 50 percent of their time in the classroom are eligible to apply.

Once admitted, participants have three levels of achievement. Each level has extensive requirements, like hours of credit beyond a bachelor's degree and filling out a responsibility plan that outlines their goals for the year.

After meeting these requirements, participants receive a supplemental check depending on their level. Levels one, two and three receive $1,500, $3,000 and $5,000, respectively, Brown said. The program continues to grow every year and thus far, there has not been a cap on the number of participants.

When Career Ladder started in 1987, it had 258 participants, according to information provided by Brown. In the 2007-08 school year, there were 687.

This year, the district provided an extra $98,500 to the program, while the state increased its contribution by $88,500, said Linda Quinley, director of business services for Columbia Public Schools.

Brown said the budget increased for two reasons. There are more participants joining the program and their progression to a different level costs more money. This year’s increase is largely a shift from level two to three, Brown said.

The program's entire budget is nearly $3.3 million, with roughly $1.4 million provided by the state. Quinley said all of this money goes toward paying the salaries of professional staff participating in the program, as well as to their retirement fund.

Quinley said unless the School Board changes how it supports Career Ladder, the budget would be expected to grow every year. 

Marilyn Andre, a second-grade teacher at Lee Expressive Arts Elementary, is in the third level of the program. She participates in the program because she likes doing extra work in her building and with her students. The extra money is also an incentive.

"I think it's a very important incentive that the state has done to be able to give teachers who are on limited income an extra opportunity," Andre said.

The program is available statewide and about 350 districts in Missouri participate, said Gerri Ogle, associate commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In 1985, the legislature passed a law creating the program to pay teachers doing extra work beyond their contracts, she said. The money is allocated in the state budget and then the Department of Education has the authority to pay each district. Each district reports the number of teachers and each stage they are on and that is put into a computer program that decides how much each district receives.

The state has guidelines for the program, and Columbia Public Schools added a few of its own. Not all school districts in Missouri participate in the program, since some have other ways of honoring merit, Brown said.

James Melton, choral director at West Junior High School, is in the second level of the program. While he doesn't like the fact that teachers cannot participate in the program in their first year of teaching in the district, he does like the extra reward.

Melton said the program honors the commitment of teachers to their students.

"I love the fact that it's rewarding teachers for the extra effort that teachers put in on a daily basis," he said.

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