Windfall funds tapped for teachers’ pay

The additional raises add $4.3 million to the school budget.
Friday, May 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:07 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Good news for the state budget may translate into good news for Columbia Public School District teachers.

Teacher base pay raises between $1,000 and $1,200 annually are being recommended by city school district administrators after the state’s latest proposed budget was changed to include $55 million more than expected for elementary and secondary education. The last teacher raise in Columbia was $150 in the 2002-03 school year.

Despite the additional funds, the Columbia district still plans to cut 50 staff positions for the 2004-05 school year.

The base salary in the district is $25,800. The proposed increases could raise that amount to $27,000, with other salaries rising by similar increments.

The proposal does not include teachers’ “step raises,” which are based on experience and education. The district already had decided to fund those for 2004-05.

Jacque Cowherd, deputy superintendent, said the additional raises being proposed will cost the district about $4.3 million.

“This is a step in the right direction for Columbia to have competitive salaries with comparable districts,” said Jan Mees, president of the Columbia Community Teachers Association.

Cowherd said the issue of competitive salaries is behind the recommendation. He said Columbia falls short in comparison with many suburban districts of similar size.

“We can’t retain teachers,” he said.

A comparable district, Hazelwood School District in St. Louis County, pays new teachers $32,700.

Recruiting has also become an issue. At the last board meeting, Mary Laffey, director of human resources, said finding teachers is often difficult because of the district’s salary levels.

“When (Laffey) goes out to recruitment fairs, many people just pass us by because of our low starting salaries,” said Mees. “This could make a big difference for her, I hope.”

The Columbia Board of Education will vote on the raises Monday. Last month, the board decided to issue teacher contracts

with no pay raise, as well as cut 50 staff positions because of a projected $8.7 million budget deficit.

At the same meeting, the board tabled a motion proposing $200 salary increases for staff. The district has until June 30 to reissue contracts.

“When the board adopted the budget parameters, they said they wanted any additional money the state might give us put into raising salaries,” said Cowherd.

Board President Chuck Headley said there is a likelihood something will happen to teacher pay, but didn’t want to speculate on what the board would decide.

“What we do know is that the state budget for education looks better and it’s looking more optimistic with respect to teacher raises,” he said.

This news comes too late for some teachers. Mees said some have already decided to leave because the district’s expected salaries looked so low.

“I think even the state government was surprised by what happened,” she said of the budget turnaround. Earlier this week, government officials announced the state had a 5.7 percent increase in received tax revenue. A 0.7 percent decrease was projected last July.

This year’s budget is still $600 million less than the amount needed for lower education to be fully funded under the state’s foundation formula, which determines adequate levels of education funding.

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