For the fourth year in a row, the Columbia Board of Education will dip into its reserves and increase teachers’ salaries by $600 for the 2005-2006 school year.
The board voted Monday to approve the administration’s recommendation on teachers’ contracts and give them a base salary increase of $300, costing the district $935,000.
An additional two days in the contract amounts to another $302 per teacher, costing $687,000.
Those increases bring the base teacher salary to $28,200, or about a 4 percent raise on average, for the 2005-2006 school year.
Using reserve funds to pay for salary increases is not a new strategy for the board.
“This board has authorized the use of reserve funds for the last three years, ever since the foundation formula has not been fully funded,” said Phyllis Chase, superintendent for the Columbia Public School District.
The school board is trying to maintain its reserves at 18 percent of the operating budget. Right now, it rests at 23.17 percent for the 2004-2005 school year, but projections for next year put the reserve rate at 17.1 percent, based on the current budget.
Chase said the board is being cautious with its use of reserves and understands the risks involved.
“I think any time you use reserves for ongoing costs, you get concerned,” she said.
The board also voted to approve another plan to increase the salaries by an additional $300, but whether that money materializes is a matter that is in the state’s hands.
“We would raise the salaries another $300 to $28,500, but we won’t know about that until the last two weeks in June,” said board member Don Ludwig.
Ludwig said that deviating from the 18 percent target of reserves to pay teachers’ salaries puts the district at risk for more expenses.
“If the reserves get too low we have to borrow from banks and pay higher interest rates,” he said.
Possible plans to use “one-time money” for recurring costs concerns Ludwig.
“Next year, if we don’t get an increase (from the state) we don’t have any more money to pull out of,” he said. “We either have to raise taxes, get additional services from the state or cut programs.”
Chase’s presentation on reserves to the board showed that after next year, there will be no further salary increases and no more employees hired.
For the coming year, the district will spend $1.4 million on new staff, including 17 certified secondary teachers and seven elementary teachers.
Another budget presentation showed several aspects of the district’s current and future money inflow and outflow.
Jacque Cowherd, deputy superintendent for the district, said the 2004-2005 budget is about on track for expenditures and revenues.
Expenditures for next year will increase by $8.35 million, Chase predicted, with a likely operating budget of $138.9 million, depending on what the state is able to allocate to the district.