The Purdy Community Teachers Association held a special meeting in the R-II School District library on Dec. 8. Rep. David Sater addressed concerns about state funding and other school-related topics during the meeting.
"I don't always have the best solutions and ideas when it comes to education, but it is very important for me to gather information from my constituents to be better informed about the issues that teachers and schools are facing," said Sater. "It is my job not only to pass laws but to make budget decisions. As legislators, we have to balance those responsibilities."
Sater reported that Missouri's budget is much healthier than some other states.
"We set aside $200 million for the Rainy Day Fund," said Sater. "This year, we were able to set aside another $650 million, which means we have around $850 million in surplus. Other states are reporting $400 to $500 million shortfalls."
Although Missouri has a large surplus, the state's revenues dropped 15 percent in November and are down around 4 percent for the year. Due to the decrease in funding, legislators will be forced to make budget cuts in several areas, said Sater.
"Everyone wants money," said Sater. "For instance, we will have testimony for healthcare coming up and we will have people in wheel chairs come in and talk about the services they need. How can we turn them down?
"I don't have all the answers, but I hope to work on the issues that are important to you," said Sater.
Some of the first topics Sater addressed related to a proposed law that would require districts to pay nurses on the same pay schedule as teachers, teacher retirement plans, Social Security deductions and the elimination of gifted education as a categorical item.
Jackie Rutherford, Missouri Options instructor, submitted a question related to the new school funding formula and teacher salary increases. Rutherford also asked why some urban school districts receive more funding that rural districts.
"Salaries depend on several variables, including state aid, the finances of the district and the challenges the district is facing," said Sater. "These things are different from school district to school district. Different school districts have different cost of living and cost of building too."
According to Sater, more funding has been distributed to large urban areas like St. Louis due to a decrease in student performance and an increase in dropout rates.
"Those kids are as important as our kids, but we need to find a way to correct the issue instead of thinking that more money will fix it," said Sater. "Lots of things contribute to student performance, like background, family life and parent involvement. Home life is very important.
"What is going on now is not fair," said Sater. "I am aware of it, and I would like to see it rectified."
Dixie Farris, special education director, submitted a question about state legislators' consideration of a law that would require districts to evaluate special education teachers on students' performances on standard tests.
"The idea of basing special education teachers' pay on student performances offers unique challenges," said Sater. "I don't see this being passed any time soon."
Several teachers suggested districts test special education students at the beginning and end of each school year. Teacher evaluations could then be related to student progress instead of performance on a standard test.
Teachers attending the meeting also suggested state legislators enact a law that would require non-English speaking students pass a standard language test before they are required to complete the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test.
Other questions addressed teachers' concerns on insurance premium increases, the mission of the Department of Elementary and Special Education (DESE), which requires a $127 million annual operating budget, and career ladder requirements.
Sater stated that he would talk to some of his fellow legislators about the suggestions made by the Purdy staff members.
"If every school district had meetings like this, where they meet face to face with their senators and representatives and express their concern for the kids and the problems that they are having, it would help us address some of these issues," said Sater. "I encourage any of you to e-mail me about the issues that you are having at any time."
Sater's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.