Teacher retention, salaries made legislative priority

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education considers supporting raising the minimum teacher salary to $32,000 to help solve the state’s teacher shortage. While area schools will not be directly impacted as they already pay a base higher than $32,000, district leaders said they support increases but wonder how smaller districts with limited revenues will be able to afford the change if approved.

In 2020, Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education hopes to address the state’s teacher shortage through recruitment and retention efforts that include possibly raising teacher minimum salaries to $32,000, up from $25,000.

On average, the current minimum is $5,000 lower than nearby states of Kentucky, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

DESE’s Assistant Commissioner Paul Katnik said Missouri ranks 48th in the country in terms of teacher pay.

“Gov. (Mike) Parson has indicated his desire to move Missouri’s ranking among the states related to teacher salaries,” Superintendent of Liberty Public Schools Jeremy Tucker said.

If the legislature approves an increased minimum pay and it is signed off on by the governor, the statewide increase would cost about $322.5 million.

As they currently pay teachers more than the $32,000 threshold, districts of Kearney, Liberty, Smithville and North Kansas City would not be directly impacted if the measure was approved.

Despite this, Kearney School District Superintendent Bill Nicely, a representative from North Kansas City Schools and Smithville Superintendent Todd Schuetz said they support a statewide effort to increase teacher pay.

“The (NKCS Board of Education’s) goal is to maintain teaching salaries in the upper third of the metro area. The impact on NKC Schools would be dependent on how other districts respond,” North Kansas City Schools Superintendent of Human Resources Jenni Gaddie said. “We will make every attempt to remain competitive and reward employees for the powerful work they do each day with students.”

Kearney’s struggle, like fellow districts in the Northland, Nicely said, is how to be fiscally responsible while also staying competitive with other Kansas City metropolitan area districts.

“We don’t want to lose good teachers to other districts that are paying more,” Nicely said.

Despite all Northland schools’ ability to afford starting salaries for teachers above $32,000, Smithville School District Superintendent Todd Schuetz said that may not be the case everywhere.

“Levies and local property values vary widely across the state so funding for schools varies as well,” he explained. “Blanket policies can be dangerous as the resources to meet such mandates are not equal.”

Nicely, who previously was superintendent of a small rural district in Leeton, said the question that needs answered is how smaller districts with less resources will fund increased salary minimums if enacted.

Determining how increases would be funded is up to the General Assembly, however the teacher board proposed it be funded by the state.

“I’m not disinclined to look at raising teachers’ salaries, but we would need to do it in a responsible fashion as not to blow the doors off the state budget in the process,” said Sen. Dan Hegeman, representing part of Clay County including Kearney and Holt in Senate District 12. “If all of a sudden, boom, we try to get it done in one year, it would be impractical. I am supportive of raising teachers’ salaries, I just don’t see how we could do it in one year.”

Northwest Editor Sean Roberts can be reached at sean.roberts@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6606.

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