Almost 50 staff positions will have to be cut next year if teachers are to remain on their current salary schedule, school administrators told the Columbia Board of Education on Thursday.
The board decided to continue operating the district salary schedule — that is, incremental payments for teachers based on experience and education — but said raises beyond that are not feasible with a predicted budget shortfall of $8.7 million for the next school year.
In short, there isn’t enough money to both keep up the salary schedule and preserve jobs.
Superintendent Phyllis Chase asked the board for a consensus on teacher salaries so the administration could begin to inform principals “by the end of the month” about staff adjustments.
Chase wants to notify staff soon so the released employees can compete for jobs elsewhere.
Job cuts would continue a trend
Last year, 32 staff positions were cut, and about 23 of these were classroom teachers. The school administration estimates that this year about 30 of the 50 liquidated positions will be classroom teachers.
The board considered freezing the salaries at current levels, but the ultimate consensus was to run the schedule.
Kevan Snell, treasurer for the board, said all of the positions would be saved if the salary schedule wasn’t maintained. No mandate to run the salary schedule exists, but the board has said it is an important factor in keeping well-qualified staff and maintaining teacher morale.
Teachers, others weigh salary raises against cuts
Board members Karla DeSpain and Kerry Crist discussed the moral issue facing teachers — needing money they were expecting as part of the salary schedule but wanting to avoid staff cuts.
“What I’m hearing from teachers is that they are willing to make sacrifices if they don’t see a lot of their peers cut,” said Crist.
Crist talked about the e-mails and phone calls she has received from community members about teacher salaries and staff cuts and said a community survey might be necessary so the board knows what the public wants.
Board member Elton Fay expressed his continued support for teacher raises and questioned the future of the district if major changes aren’t considered.
“Let me challenge you,” Fay said to the board. “We’ll be in exactly the same place next year. We’ve got to take a look at some areas and see if we’re getting the most bang for our buck.”
Board member Don Ludwig gave an early suggestion about where cuts should be made. “I hope we minimize cuts at the elementary level,” he said.
Ludwig and others expressed their hope that not so many reductions will be necessary. “I don’t expect any changes, but a miracle could happen,” he said. In May, the board will vote on the district’s final budget (which hinges on the final state budget, to be approved later).
Grant could ease cuts
The board also approved to apply for Reading First, a federal program that provides money to states to administer reading instruction and assessment methods.
Assistant Superintendent Skip Deming said the grant would allow consistent teaching methods of reading across all 19 elementary schools in the district, even though the district can apply for grants only for 15 school buildings.
The grant would give each approved school a minimum of $100,000 for three years with compliance of a state-approved reading curriculum. The money would go toward staff development and reading coaches for elementary schools. The district will find out if they get the grant in April, and the program would begin in schools next fall.
One concern is that the program would further tie the district to state and federal requirements. This is happening at a time when the status of funding for the Missouri Assessment Program — which is critically linked to the federal No Child Left Behind Act — is being questioned by state legislators.
The board’s hands are tied in many aspects because of state and federal legislation and funding.
“Someone has to fix what is going on in Jeff City and nationally,” said board member David Ballenger.