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April 7 ballot items affect schools, salaries

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

An April 7 election will determine whether property taxes will increase to fund improvements to the Springfield Public Schools. The money is badly needed, school officials say, both for infrastructure improvements to the schools' facilities and for increases in teaching salaries.

The school district is proposing that it issue general obligation bonds in the amount of $54.5 million. The bond money would be used to fund "bricks and mortar" type projects, such as improvements to existing buildings and the addition of a sixth high school.

The second item is an increase in the operating tax levy by 63 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which would raise the total adjusted operating levy of the school district to $3.57 per $100 of assessed valuation. A portion of that money has been set aside to increase teachers' salaries in the district, which is in danger of losing the top education graduates from area colleges to schools outside Springfield, which pay beginning teachers more, said Glenn Pace, director of human resources for the Springfield Public Schools.

"If one school only a few miles away is offering 10 percent more money than we are for a beginning teacher, that makes a big difference in that teacher's life," Pace said.

Right now, Springfield pays a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree $22,556. Nixa, Willard, El Dorado Springs, Hartville and Norwood all pay beginning teachers more than that. Willard pays a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree $24,160.

Pace said it is that difference that will make graduates start going elsewhere.

"That will leave us in a competitive disadvantage. We'll be losing additional ground in hiring the best-qualified teachers. Our goal is to raise those salaries so that they'll be competitive with other districts. We want to set the curve instead of trying to catch up," Pace said.

The salaries have lagged behind because "we didn't go to the voters soon enough," Pace said. If the bond issue passes April 7, the school will raise its beginning salary for a bachelor-degreed teacher to $24,500. Yearly pay increases will also rise incrementally.

The issue of starting teacher salaries is especially important right now, Pace said, because the school system will hire about 130 teachers next year. Last year, it hired 204, a record high, and Pace said he expects the district to hire between 130 and 150 per year in the years to come. The district has a total of 1,670 teachers.

The Willard School District, however, will hire only 10 new teachers next year, said its superintendent, Dr. Dale Houck. The starting salary at Willard is $24,160, higher than Springfield's current starting salary and lower than the proposed $24,500.

"I don't think our salary is that much higher to make a significant difference in where teachers go for employment. Teachers come to a job for a variety of reasons," Houck said.

While the starting salary is higher, the maximum at Willard is lower than the maximum a Springfield teacher can earn. The maximum for a bachelor-degreed teacher is $29,560 in Willard and $31,406 in Springfield. A teacher with a master's degree can earn a maximum of $34,310 in Willard and $40,725 in Springfield.

"Teachers are smart people. I don't think our starting salary will make that big a difference. They will look at where the salary will take them down the road. Where you decide to teach is often a matter of preference; some teachers would rather be a big fish in a small pond," Houck said.

Willard has a total of 211 teachers.

Republic, which employs 190 individuals with state teaching certification (the number includes administrators) will add two or three teachers next year. Superintendent Dr. Howard Neeley said the school district, which has a starting salary for a bachelor-degreed teacher of $22,450, does not have a problem recruiting high quality teachers and really doesn't feel that it is competing with the Springfield district for teachers.

The new pay schedule, if the bond issue passes, is designed to prevent "the loss of high quality teachers to the outlying districts," Pace said. Having the best quality teachers will help the district prevent high school dropouts and encourage at-risk students to stay in school, Pace said.

"We have to have the teachers to do the intervention and help get these kids to stay in school and get a good education," Pace said.

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