Columbia School Board candidates discuss teacher pay

Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 9:56 p.m. CDT; updated 8:26 a.m. CDT, Friday, March 21, 2014

COLUMBIA — School Board candidates Jonathan Sessions, Helen Wade, Paul Cushing and Joseph Toepke discussed the thorny issue of teachers' pay Thursday.

In 2006, the Columbia Public School District froze two-year's worth of pay increases for teachers. The candidates were asked how they would vote on retroactively restoring that pay.

The candidates agreed that the district's budget restricted their ability to restore pay. If there were room in the budget for more pay, Sessions and Wade said they might sooner consider a raise in base pay for all teachers.

"My concern is that because it's been so many years since this issue has been addressed, there are a limited number of teachers that would be impacted by it," Sessions said. "That amount of money could make a substantial impact to the base and create a large benefit for every teacher in the district, as opposed to just a small group."

Wade agreed that district teachers need to be paid more, but said she didn't know for certain how to resolve that issue.

"At the end of the day, depending upon what is submitted to us as a board, it may be something like adding to the base," Wade said.

Toepke spoke in support of raising compensation rather than instituting new programs with available funds.

"Do you follow through with the promises you made, or do you spend it on stuff — programs and whatnot?" he said. "Although iPads and everything are great and wonderful assisters, if it comes with the shorting of the teachers ... I think we're doing it backwards."

Cushing first joked that he didn't want to answer the question, then he said the issue would take cooperation from both teachers and administration.

"I hope that the people sitting on both sides of the negotiation table will do whatever they can to find the best compensation possible." Cushing said.

The Columbia Missouri National Education Association, a teachers' union, hosted the forum at the Neil C. Aslin Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St. CMNEA members Laurie Spate-Smith and Kory Kaufman moderated.

The four candidates are running for three open seats. The election is April 8.

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