New legislation would reward hard-to-find teachers

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Missouri teachers could receive bonuses for accepting difficult or hard-to-fill assignments under recently proposed state legislation, but local superintendents say they foresee problems if the practice is approved.

The bill, which a House committee recommended be passed last week, would revise a state law requiring every school board to adopt an annual salary schedule "applicable to all teachers." Under the legislation, a district could offer bonuses out of its own budget if it had a shortage of teachers in given subjects or needed them for "difficult" situations, such as larger-than-recommended classes. Teachers receiving bonuses could be required to remain in the district for up to three years.

The bill is intended to help school districts cope with a statewide teacher shortage in areas such as science, math, foreign language and special education.

Superintendent Mark Bowles said Cape Girardeau schools have seen a decline in applicants for all of those areas in recent years, and much of that is due to the pay scale.

"For the same amount of training or even not as much, they can go into engineering or industrial technology and walk into a job at $60,000," Bowles said.

First-year teachers in Cape Girardeau receive a base salary of $24,500, which is lower than surrounding districts such as Jackson and Scott City. Bowles said the low salary may be costing the district applicants, but he's still against offering bonuses.

"It creates immediate internal rift when you compensate people differently," said Bowles. "I think this district is moving in the other direction from that."

Officials in rural districts such as Oak Ridge and Scott City say there hasn't been a major shortage of applicants for teaching positions in recent years. Dr. Gerald Landewee, Oak Ridge superintedent, said he understands the intent of the legislation is to help schools, but he believes who is eligible to receive such bonuses should be clearly defined in the law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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