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By Mike Scott, NEMOnews Media Group
Recruiting and retaining qualified teachers is a challenge for all schools in Missouri.
The average starting pay for Missouri teachers ranks 50th in the United States, at $32,970. The current minimum starting wage allowed by the state of Missouri is just $25,000.
The problem is particularly challenging across northeast Missouri school districts. Recent college graduates are more likely go to work in places like Columbia, which recently announced a base salary of $40,000. Many recent graduates also prefer the larger cities, which have more lifestyle and entertainment options.
In the six districts in northeast Missouri that responded to our questions, base salary ranged from $31,200 at Schuyler County, to $37,000 at Knox County.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson has proposed a minimum salary for new teachers of $38,000. The legislature has not yet approved the idea.
“We still can’t compete with Iowa and Illinois pay,” said Clark County R-1 Superintendent Ritchie Kracht.
In Iowa, the average starting pay is $37,908, and the overall average is $58,184, according to the National Education Association website.
In Illinois, the average salary for a new teacher is $40,484, and the overall average is $68,083.
In Missouri, the statewide average teacher’s pay is $50,817.
How many teachers are needed in northeast Missouri schools?
“We are currently looking to fill seven teaching positions and 14 coaching positions,” said Palmyra R-1 Superintendent Kirt Malone.
“We have currently one opening,” said Kracht at Clark County. “We have hired four and have another to recommend at the next meeting.”
Scotland County R-1 has six openings this year.
“We were able to get three positions filled at the March board meeting,” said Superintendent Ryan Bergeson. “We have three positions that we are currently taking applications for.”
“We had five teaching positions that needed to be filled for next year,” said Andy Turgeon, Superintendent at Knox County R-1. We were able to fill two of those. It is still early, so we may have more positions open. Hopefully not. Three of the positions are in areas that are difficult to fill and we have had no applicants to date.”
At North Shelby, Superintendent Kim Gaines said, “ We will be replacing six to eight teaching positions for the 2022-2023 school year.
Schuyler County R-1 Superintendent Kyle Windy reported that his district is needing to fill three or four teaching positions.
What challenges to schools have finding qualified teachers?
“It is challenging to try to recruit a candidate from an urban area where they have no association of background knowledge of rural schools or northeast Missouri,” said Bergeson.
“The pool of teachers in shrinking greatly, and it is harder to get first year teachers to come to the rural areas,” added Gaines.
“Just a few years ago, we would have had dozens of applicants for our elementary positions. Now we typically just get a few,” Malone said. “In high needs areas, such as special education, science and math, we feel fortunate to get a couple applicants for those positions now.”
“Most teachers we hire are Clark County graduates or have some other connection to Clark County,” said Kracht. “We normally have only one to three applicants for job openings.”
Are there any benefits/programs your district offers to attract teachers?
“We hope that our starting salary will help attract teachers,” responded Turgeon.
“North Shelby offers a family-like atmosphere and great kids to teach,” said Gaines. “Our base salary is competitive compared to districts of like size.”
“Our goal is to keep base pay among the highest in the area, and continue to offer traditional benefits such as health insurance,” answered Malone.
At Clark County, Kracht replied,” We do everything we can to support teachers. Our administrators work hard to take care of discipline issues and parent issues. We want to create an environment where teachers can teach with minimal distractions. We offer mentoring for first and second year teachers.”
Both Scotland County and Schuyler County touted career ladder as an attractive benefit. Scotland County also reported consistent facility improvements and nine consecutive raise to the base salary as things which attract staff.
Two school districts in northeast Missouri, Scotland County and Schuyler County, have joined the 128 school districts, 25% of Missouri’s total school districts, that have switched to four-day school weeks.
At Schuyler County, Windy reports the district has experienced higher teacher and student morale, and an increase in the attendance rate. Test scored have also increased, although he noted there are many possible reasons for that.
“After surveying our constituents, we found that we had over 84 percent in favor of the four day school week,” said Scotland County’s Bergeson. “We have also been successful recruiting teachers that prefer the four day school week calendar.
Palmyra, Clark County, North Shelby and Knox County have no plans to make the switch to a four day schedule at this time.
What challenges are your teachers facing, in and out of the classroom?
“Our youngest students who missed out on the last three months of school in 2020 may have the most dramatic needs. We have a great deal of concern for learning loss in the most critical areas of English, Reading, and Math. Teachers continue to deal with learning loss this year because of school time missed when school was closed in 2020, and because of extended quarantine periods since then. Teachers have had to deal with a greater number of students who are coming to school less engaged and less driven to succeed in school. While we were in school all last year and again this year, on any given day we had dozens of students quarantined at home who need to receive their lessons from teachers. Even with technology aiding communication between school and home it is still an additional amount of time and energy needed to devote to educating quarantined students,” said Malone.
Kracht answered, “Our number of discipline issues increase each year. Social media is a huge problem. I believe this will lead to more teachers quitting the profession more than anything else they face.”
“Turnovers always make it difficult to develop consistency,” said Knox County’s Turgeon. “Student needs keep increasing every year, adding to the teachers’ planning and strategies needed.”
“Teachers’ jobs have become increasingly difficult during the pandemic–teaching live and virtual at the same time–requiring more of them than ever before in their careers. Schools are expected to be all things to all students, and this makes it difficult to do their main job–teach,” explained Gaines.
Bergeson reported that at Scotland County, increasing demands on student and staff, rising costs of college tuition, and a lack of respect and support from the legislature and media are challenges.
Challenges at Schuyler County include student motivation, mental health, parental expectations, decreased involvement, decreased support, Facebook comments and staff having “a lot on their plates,” according to Windy.
How will Governor Parson’s proposal to raise the minimum salary to $38,000 impact your district?
“The governor’s proposal to raise minimum salary will not do much to help us as our beginning salary will be near that amount next year anyway,” said Malone. “The effort is worthwhile from the governor, but it does not help school districts for the long haul. What the governor and legislature can do to help schools most is to increase funds going into the state foundation formula. Missouri is 49th or 50th in the nation for public school funding from the state, and 2nd in the nation for local burden to support public schools. That does not equate to a balanced formula of success for Missouri public schools. The Palmyra R-1 community provides about 63% of our school funding while the state provides about 27% and the federal government provides the remaining amount. We have been at the same state-level funding levels for the past three years and the legislature has already “promised” to keep the same levels for the next two years. That means five straight years of stagnate funding all while local communities pick up the increased costs of educating our students during that time. The governor’s proposal to move salaries to $38,000 would mean a lot more if funding was coming through the state foundation formula and not through federal relief funds for just the next two years. After two years there is no plan we are aware of to continue to support teacher salaries throughout the state.”
Gaines echoed the concerns.
“The $38,000 minimum salary will only apply to first year teachers. All teachers need to be paid more money, but this minimum will affect district salary schedules to the point where it will be a hardship on district budgets to fund this type of salary increase currently and in the future.”
Kracht added, “Our veteran teachers will not get a raise because the District has to come up with 30% of the raise to 38,000 and must pay the increase in benefits. That will eat up all the money the District has to give raises. The state must do something for all teachers.”
“We are 100 percent in favor of educators being compensated for the work they do for our students. Teachers have the ability to make a significant impact on our students in a variety of ways. Our teachers are more than just educators and it goes well beyond the classroom. Our teachers also fill the roles of mentor, mediator, advocate, counselor, coach, and role model. My hope is that Governor Parson plans to have the legislature help fund this proposal with additional state funds to allow districts to afford these much needed increases in salaries. Teachers across the State of Missouri and especially at Scotland County deserve much better than to be 50th out of 50 states in teacher compensation,” said Bergeson.
“We feel that our salaries set us apart from other neighboring schools, and if Gov. Parson raises the salaries we may have to look at raising them above to stay ahead,” answered Turgeon.
While noting it would be positive for the staff, Windy added, “The district would have to budget that much more money and would be a big hit to start with, if the state didn’t fund more.”
A comment by Kracht summarizes the situation
“Education is quickly approaching a crisis situation. A lack of good teachers to hire will lead to a lower quality education for our students, and larger class sizes. We need more highly qualified people to enter the teaching profession. That will not happen until the state commits to better pay for teachers and our society decides to respect and value teachers again,” he said.
Editor’s Note: For this story, we also reached out twice to Lewis County C-1 (Highland), Milan C-2, and Green City R-1. We did not receive responses from those schools.