Columbia Public Schools in danger of losing Career Ladder program

Friday, September 11, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Teacher representatives, legislators and members of the Columbia School Board met Thursday in an effort to save a 22-year-old teacher incentive program.

The Career Ladder program has been in danger of losing funding since July when Columbia Public Schools received a letter from the state’s Education Department stating that 40 percent, roughly $1.4 million, of the program's funding,  might no longer be appropriated by the Missouri General Assembly. This would cause the school district to fund the entire program, which would cost near $3.3 million instead of the 60 percent it currently provides.

State legislature funded $37.4 million statewide for the Career Ladder program this year, according to the Missouri State Teachers Association Web site

Career Ladder is a voluntary incentive program for teachers that has been supported by district since the 1987-88 school year. The program has grown from 258 participants at its birth to 707 members as of Sept. 3.  

“Let’s stand up for things that work and have produced results because there are too few examples, and this is one,” Superintendent Chris Belcher said. “I hate to see that when times get tough we take out some of the most positive programs we have.”

Career Ladder monetarily rewards teachers and those certified to teach for engaging in a variety of activities with students outside of their contracted time. People who are not teachers but certified to teach include media specialists, guidance counselors and speech/language pathologists.

Extracurricular activities that teachers can participate in include tutoring, assisting with curriculum development, providing supervision for before and after school computer labs and coordinating family activity and parent seminars. The amount of hours a teacher spends outside of his or her contracted time corresponds with an added annual bonus.  

There are three levels of these bonuses. Teachers that spend 60 hours outside their contracted time would earn $1,500. Completing 90 hours earns $3,000, and completing 120 hours earns $5,000.   

The continued funding of Career Ladder was supported unanimously by all in attendance, especially Belcher who called it “one of the best things this state has done.”

The teachers in attendance spoke strongly about the importance of the program and how crucial it was to their students.

“Career Ladder has allowed me to do more and be more for my students,” said Susan McClintic, Benton Elementary School teacher and president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association.

Many people said Career Ladder also encourages teachers to stay in their profession.  

“It is so crucial to give teachers that outlet for doing more and rewarding them for it,” school board member Michelle Pruitt said.  

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, echoed that sentiment. He said the vote on funding will not take place until the Missouri General Assembly reconvenes for its next session in January.

“No one goes into teaching for the money, and it’s not fair to take advantage of your good intentions,” Webber said at the meeting . “We need to retain good teachers in Columbia.”

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