Governor’s push to raise teacher salaries creates issues

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Tilford: ‘If they could afford it, they would have done it’

The state of Missouri minimum salary for teachers is $25,000, and Gov. Mike Parson is urging education administrators to “find a way” to increase it.

At a conference of superintendents and school administrators at the Margaritaville Lake Resort in Osage Beach, Parson asked school administrators to come up with a plan that is feasible in the next 3-5 years that will increase teacher pay across the state.

When looking at data compiled by Cassville Superintendent Richard Asbill, obtained from a variety of sources, Missouri ranks 42nd in average teacher pay at $49,304, but ranks 48th in average teacher starting pay, which is $32,226. When cost of living is factored in, Missouri moves up to 30th, based on 2016 data.

Between 2002 and 2017, Missouri teachers saw an average change in salary of $16,602 which ranks Missouri 22nd among states.

In Barry County, the districts’ base pay for the 2019-2020 school year were all well above the $25,000 minimum.

However, with the proposed plan to increase said minimum to $32,000, only two districts will be above that base.

Cassville’s base pay is the highest at $36,500, and Southwest is at 34,000.

Purdy is the lowest at $30,000, and Wheaton and Exeter tie at $31,000, but the long term effects of a $7,000 base pay increase would catch up to each school district.

According to Southwest Superintendent Tosha Tilford, the biggest issue facing a teacher raise mandated by the state, is when the mandate is unfunded.

“Schools will have to take money from other areas to pay salaries,” she said. “This leads to more cut-downs in the school systems.”

An unfunded mandate is difficult on rural schools because the budget is already tight.

“Southwest would be fine, because we are already $2,000 above the proposed increase amount,” Tilford said. “But, we aren’t the only school district in the state.

“Once the salaries are raised, they cannot go backward, and it is nearly impossible to decrease a salary.”

According to Tilford, what the state legislature has suggested to the superintendents is that the school districts should go to the patrons for a tax levy.

“They suggest that the tax levy funds could go into fund one, which is for salaries, rather than a bond, which goes into fund three for building projects,” she said. “They felt that the local patrons should fund this salary increase.”

Tilford said that is difficult to do in a rural school district, because there isn’t a lot of industry or business.

“Rural districts don’t have that extra tax and that ends up hitting the local patrons more,” she said. “That is a way to solve this, but I don’t agree with it.

“The Governor is for raising teacher salaries, and we all are. It is the funding of that mandate that is an issue.”

According to Tilford, another topic that was discussed at a January meeting with area legislators and both the Missouri State House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate was a $400 million Medicaid expansion.

The current bill is asking for the $400 million to be removed from the overall Missouri state budget and be directly dedicated to the expansion.

“I am not against a Medicaid expansion,” she said. “But, I am against it taking a large part of the pie. That will not only hurt education, but a lot of other entities as well.

“If this happens, next year’s budget will be stable; but starting with fiscal year 2020-2021, there could be serious funding loss for districts such as ours that depend heavily on state funding.”

Tilford said every district has its own difficulties with funding, and an unfunded mandated salary increase as well as a Medicaid expansion will add to those difficulties.

“They made it very clear that they wanted it to happen, but they did not want to fund it,” she said. “Also, our local representative was not at this meeting.”

Tilford said her suggestion to the public is to reach out and say something.

“We don’t know when this will get to the public,” she said. “It is all at a legislator level at this time. Either way, an unfunded teacher raise will hurt districts big time, and a Medicaid expansion will mess things up too.”

Tilford urges people to think about a district with a $25,000 base pay.

“That is the minimum,” she said. “If they could afford it, they would have done it.”

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