Missouri districts with a low starting salary can apply for a state grant to raise their minimum teacher salary to $38,000, but the application is voluntary, requires local correspondence, and state funds are not available. are not guaranteed after next year.
All the variables cause even the most grateful district leaders to proceed slowly and cautiously.
Fordland Superintendent Chris Ford said after asking many questions, talking to other district leaders and attending webinars, he plans to recommend applying for the state grant from the school board.
“I’m grateful for the money from the state because we don’t pay teachers enough, especially in small rural schools. There’s a lot of inequality in rural schools and (salary) is one of them” , Ford said.
“Every child needs the best possible teacher, no matter what community they live in and we don’t attract the best and brightest because we don’t pay them enough.”
The starting salary in Missouri has long been ranked near the bottom nationally. In state law, the minimum required is $25,000 – although many suburban and urban districts pay much more.
Gov. Mike Parson highlighted a higher starting salary for teachers as part of his annual State of the State address.
State lawmakers rose to the challenge and earmarked $21 million in grants in the fiscal year 2023 budget — which may soon be enacted — to help any district willing to raise its starting salary to $38,000 this fall.
However, lawmakers are not requiring all districts to move all teachers to that amount or change the minimum in state law.
To access the funds, a district must apply and cover 30% of the amount needed to fill the gap and bring all teachers up to that minimum. For example, if the gap is $3,000 to bring a teacher to $38,000, the district pays $900 and the state pays $2,100.
Ford said pressure from lawmakers to allocate more public funds to school transportation, which many districts subsidized heavily, frees up operating funds that can be used for the local game.
The budget also includes funds for Career Ladder, which allows experienced teachers to be paid more for doing extra work.
Ford said all the funds are helping, but also raising questions, including whether the money will be available after next year.
“They all made it clear that it was an annual credit,” he said. “Well, that’s a little scary.”
This fall, the starting salary for teachers at Fordland was set to be $35,500. If the district wins the grant, Ford said the additional funds are expected to help 10 of the district’s more than 50 teachers.
He said districts that improve starting pay through the state grant must communicate the precarious funding situation to teachers.
“We need to have a long-term plan to pay teachers better, but I think it’s a good start,” Ford said. “We need to be able to tell our teachers that the money is there to pay teachers what they are owed and what they are worth.”
Ash Grove Superintendent Aaron Gerla said the big question is “what happens after the first year.”
He said the starting salary at Ash Grove, northwest of Springfield, was $35,000. The district plans to apply for the grant to fill the gap.
Under the plan, any teacher currently earning less than $38,000 – regardless of their number of years of experience – will move up to this level.
Gerla said new teachers will get the biggest pay raise and that raises a question. “If we’re going to give a teacher a $3,000 raise, what will that look like for everyone else?” He asked.
He said districts that already have a starting salary of $38,000 don’t have access to state grant funds.
“You’ve got a lot of districts around that are already at $38,000 and they’ve been working hard to get over $38,000 and now all of a sudden they’re going to want to stay above everyone else,” Gerla said. . . “That money will have to come out of their budget.”
Gerla said starting pay and raises are a critical factor in recruiting and retaining employees. But this is not the only factor.
He said the district is finalizing an agreement with Evangel University to help teachers earn their master’s degrees. The school board is also studying the possibility of moving to a four-day school week.
Gerla said districts with a starting salary fairly close to $38,000 will be able to cover a home game more easily than a district with a $10,000 to $13,000 gap.
“At the moment this is a voluntary program, so you don’t have to be part of it. You can opt-in or opt-out,” he said.
Nixa is one of the southwestern Missouri districts that is ineligible to apply for state grant funds. His starting salary is over $39,100.
“There’s nothing in it for us, not a penny,” said Mark McGehee, executive director of human resources.
He said districts in southwestern Missouri are facing higher costs and inflation. In Nixa, to cover running costs, the district may need to draw on reserves to establish a final budget.
McGehee said teacher pay levels have been a statewide issue and need to be addressed: “I want to keep fighting for our teachers for more money because they are definitely doing an amazing job. They work so hard.”
He thanked lawmakers who fought to include the money in the state budget, but said he hoped the work would continue for years to come.
“I don’t want to be seen as someone who doesn’t appreciate that, but the fight has to be about more than that,” he said. “Honestly, it will take a little more than that for teachers to be competitive with other states.”
Claudette Riley is the News-Leader’s educational reporter. Email news tips to email@example.com.