Cape Girardeau school officials work on budget, teacher pay plan at retreat

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Cape Girardeau School Board's budget retreat Tuesday was a lesson in advanced math, and a few members didn't much care for the new algebra of a complicated teachers compensation schedule.

For nearly three hours, the board was flooded with numbers as members began work on a 2011-2012 Cape Girardeau School District budget built on plenty of assumptions. With state funding for education in flux, Missouri school boards are placed in the difficult position of trying to craft budgets bearing as many questions as answers.

"It changes daily," Misty Clifton, the district's chief financial officer, said of the rapidly moving budget figures.

So far, Gov. Jay Nixon has proposed funding education at just more than $3 billion, the same as last year, with the help of a $189 million infusion in federal cash targeted to save education jobs. Much could change before the end of May. But for now, assuming the Cape Girardeau School District will receive the same amount of funding, the state's school funding formula would be funded at nearly 93 percent. There also are no plans for reductions in school transportation, which sustained deep cuts this school year.

The bulk of the district's $45.9 million in revenue in the 2010-2011 school year, about $29.36 million, came from local taxes. The state contributed about $7.42 million to district revenue, slightly more than the federal share of $7.41 million.

Assessed valuation growth in the district has been comparatively stagnant over the past few years, at 0.42 percent in the current school year, compared to more than 9 percent growth in 2007-2008.

Much of Tuesday's budget retreat was devoted to a complex teacher salary schedule, principally how to boost compensation while achieving the district's No. 1 fiscal priority: balancing the budget.

The district's five-year plan aims to increase salaries, especially starting pay that is lower than many schools in the region. That plan was placed on hold this year when, in the face of state funding cuts, the district froze salaries and cut 27 positions.

With the possibility of at least stable state funding, superintendent Jim Welker said, job cuts and salary freezes may be off the table.

"I hate to say for sure. We never know," he said, "but we don't have any staffing cuts right now."

Under one scenario, teachers would see an average salary increase of 1.57 percent and would be able to move up a step, or pay grade. Teachers have been stuck in their steps this year under the pay freeze.

Welker called the scenario, far from a done deal, a middle-of-the-road approach.

"It gets us to what we can afford based on budget assumptions," he said.

The salary boost alone would cost the district $293,658, according to Clifton.

The plan includes plugging $107 into the compensation generator, or base salary number, multiplied by an index percentage, which would increase most salaries between $621 and $759, depending on years of experience and level of education. Teachers in the first four pay grades, frozen under the existing salary schedule, would get the base $107 raise.

It's that complicated formula that had board president Paul Nenninger and others questioning the salary schedule's efficacy.

"Why wouldn't we work to get a salary schedule that works?" he said.

Nenninger and board member Don Call want to see starting teachers in the first four pay grades see a bigger jump in pay. But "unfreezing" the first four steps would cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Whatever raise we give doesn't flow evenly to all employees," Nenninger said. "That's a problem."

But board member Stacy Kinder said the raises should be different for those with more experience and more education.

"You don't think people here for 30 years would have a problem with the same damn raise for 30 years" of experience? Kinder said.

Board member Phil Moore said the difference is minimal.

"It's 5 cents an hour, who cares?" he said. "I'm not going to get my tither in a tather over a nickel."

Currently, the highest salary on the teacher compensation schedule is, $55,269, and the lowest is $29,463.

Welker admitted adjusting the pay formula is a frustrating process, but it's something that needs to be addressed over time so that the district can ultimately reach its salary and budget goals.

"I think we all need to come back to this again and again until we get it fixed," he said.

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent Address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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