Next super's pay worries teachers

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Cape Girardeau's next superintendent could make $36,000 more than Mark Bowles currently receives, an increase that school board members say is necessary to attract a qualified candidate but some teachers say is unfair.

Under the suggestion of the Missouri School Boards' Association -- the organization conducting the district's superintendent search -- Cape Girardeau School Board members made the superintendent's salary range $125,000 to $140,000 per year. It previously was $100,000 to $110,000 per year.

The increase comes after the board's January approval of $1.2 million in budget cuts that froze employee salaries, eliminated positions and decreased employee benefits.

A group of Cape Girardeau teachers listed those reasons and others in a letter mailed to board members this week that objects to the superintendent salary increase. Speaking anonymously, a Cape Girardeau teacher said around 40 tenured employees signed the letter. Teachers also plan to address the issue at Monday's school board meeting.

Earlier in the week, school board president Charlie Haubold said he had heard no concerns from teachers about the superintendent's salary increase.

Haubold said the board made the decision based on a recommendation by MSBA, which came after the organization interviewed various groups of local business people in October as part of the superintendent search.

"They showed us we were being unrealistic for someone with a doctorate and years of experience," Haubold said. "We know we'll be competitive; we're not on the low end and we're not on the high end."

Haubold also said part of the money generated from an August increase in the district's property tax levy has been earmarked to improve teachers' salaries next year, and that the new superintendent's salary is part of next year's budget as well.

"Will it make people mad? We hope not, but we have to look at next year, at what we can do for staff when the new superintendent comes," Haubold said.

Phone calls to other board members were not returned Friday, and teachers declined to comment on the situation before Monday's school board meeting.

The letter to board members underlines how the $1.2 million in cutbacks are affecting teachers and students, specifically drawing attention to overcrowding in classrooms, textbook shortages and low morale.

According to the letter, "The fact that the students, faculty and staff have borne the brunt of the district's budget cuts makes us unwilling to accept this decision to find funds for an increase in the superintendent's salary that only a few months ago did not exist."

The letter also asks the school board to reconsider renewing Bowles' contract, which board members voted against doing in August.

Bowles said Friday that he is aware of the teachers' concerns and that he respects their decision to take those concerns to the school board.

"I feel the staff members have done a very professional job putting their feelings into writing," Bowles said. "I consistently advocate for all community members to come to the board of education with issues that directly concern the operation of the board."

"But when employees of an organization do that, it runs the risk of misinterpretation by community members," Bowles said. "For better or worse, it's different when nonemployee patrons bring a concern to the board."

The letter asks the school board to give employees similar raises to what the next superintendent will receive in comparison to Bowles' salary of $104,000.

That amount could be between 20 and 35 percent more than Bowles, depending on what salary is awarded.

According to the School Administrator, a national education magazine, the national average salary for superintendents in districts with between 2,500 and 9,999 students is $121,853.

In neighboring Jackson, where there are nearly 1,000 more students than in Cape Girardeau, superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson has 40 years of experience and a salary of $118,000 per year.

The deadline for applications for the superintendent's job was Nov. 2, and MSBA is currently interviewing prospective candidates. The school board will begin interviewing finalists later this month and may select a new superintendent by the end of December.

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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