COLUMBIA — On Monday night, the Columbia School Board voted to approve a number of measures affecting district employee salaries and benefits. All measures the board voted on were approved, and all but one were unanimous.
- The board voted to continue funding employee benefits for 2012 with minimal changes to the 2011 plan. The district expects to pay $750,000 more for 2012, which is $50,000 less than originally projected.
- The board approved allowing district employees to move up the pay scale. Increases will be considered based on years of experience in the district and teachers' level of education. Estimated cost for the district is $2,628,000. Board member Jim Whitt abstained from the vote.
- The board adopted a 30-step pay scale for building administrators. Movement on the pay scale will depend on a satisfactory evaluation at year’s end. The cost for this measure is included in the district employee pay scale advancement.
- The board approved allowing all district employees to receive an additional year of salary increases. Salaries are increased by a specific percentage every year for a set number of years. After that, the salary increases at a fixed amount every year. The increase in pay helps cover the cost of retirement and could cost the district $85,000.
- The board approved adopting a new pay scale for participants in the Parents As Teachers program. As of Sept. 15, participants will not be compensated for additional levels of education.
- The board approved adopting an expanded occupational therapist and physical therapist pay scale. The scale was extended to 20 steps, costing the district an estimated $8,500.
- The board approved removing extra compensation for teachers asked to teach a sixth period during the school day. Currently, teachers are scheduled to teach five periods a day. This proposal will not change the extra compensation Career Center teachers receive.
Whitt said that, while he supports district employees being paid more based on years of experience, he was unsure about supporting increased pay for teachers' continued education.
“Right now we are making a decision in a very tight budget environment,” Whitt said. “Right now I don’t have enough information to feel comfortable from a fiduciary position to say yes.”
Board member Michelle Pruitt also said she wanted more information about the measure — specifically, the correlation between student achievement and teachers' continued education. Pruitt voted to approve the measure.
“I just feel like we are making this decision a little prematurely,” Pruitt said. “Doing it now locks us into other decisions that we haven’t really investigated.”
Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Mary Laffey said the timing of the vote depended on when teacher contracts need to be made.
“We still believe that this is a responsible decision,” Laffey said. “We wouldn’t be bringing to you a recommendation that we didn’t think was fiscally sound.”
Superintendent Chris Belcher said financially the district is “right where we projected to be, maybe a little bit better.”
Belcher said while he thinks the state will fund summer school, he and Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley know that this may change.
If state funding drops off across the board, Quinley said district savings can support day-to-day operations. The district could start deficit spending as early as 2012-13.
At its next meeting on April 11, the board will welcome the three members who will be elected on April 5.