Columbia school board focuses on dilemma of raising salaries

Tuesday, February 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:08 a.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

Raising salaries to keep teacher morale high at the Columbia Public School District would come at the price of losing teachers.

Plans to increase teacher salaries was a focal point of discussion at the Columbia Board of Education meeting Monday night. The district administration suggested increasing teacher salaries by $200 from the current $25,800 base level, which is the salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree. Other salaries would increase on the salary schedule by corresponding amounts.

Board members J.C. Headley and Elton Fay asked the board and administration to consider increase levels of $500 and $1,000 respectively.

Fay's concern was staying competitive with other districts.

"If we absolutely are not competitive on new teachers and we send our personnel director out to get new teachers and she can't even talk to the best because of salaries, then we are failing the students," said Fay.

His concern may have been founded on the salary proposal given by Jan Mees, the president of Columbia Community Teacher's Association. She compared Columbia Public School District teacher salaries with similar school districts in the state.

"We are beginning to lag well behind our colleagues in comparable districts," said Mees.

Mees also presented an informal survey taken by the CCTA in which the group asked teachers if they wanted to operate the salary schedule. Operating the schedule would mean larger class sizes and more staff cuts. Not operating the schedule means smaller classes and less money.

Fifty-six percent of the teachers who responded said they wanted to operate the schedule; 43 percent said they did not.

Discussion of increasing salaries also included increasing the loss of teachers. If reserves are kept at 18 percent, the $200 increase scenario would mean the loss of 55 teaching positions. The $500 increase would cost 76 positions and the $1,000 increase would cost 109, according to the administration.

"Believe me, teachers are aware," said Mees of the eventual cuts if salaries increase. "This is a no-win situation for teachers."

"To increase salaries, we're looking at cutting teachers and increasing class sizes," said board member Don Ludwig. "I don't know what the answer is at this point."

Going below 18 percent in reserves is another source of discussion. This would allow the district to keep more teachers when raising salaries, but it will also compound budget problems in the future.

"The reserve -- we have to find it year after year," said Karla DeSpain. "Until I see some change in the funding mechanisms, I'm just not comfortable doing something like that."

This decrease in teachers would come at a time when achievement standards and federal sanctions are intensifying. Superintendent Phyllis Chase addressed the improvement efforts being made in schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress, the federal benchmark of school achievement.

Chase said the district is working on frequent assessments and investing in teacher knowledge.

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