Friday, July 10, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Teachers’ pay

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District’s school board approved a salary schedule Tuesday that would cut the pay of some veteran teachers by as much as 20 percent and reduce their benefits by half. That’s all the board, administration and consultants are sure they can afford.

New teachers will actually be rewarded under the school board’s new pay scale. Recent grads, fresh out of college, will be paid higher than average for the area, starting at $38,000 a year. But some longtime teachers who had been with the district for decades could have made up to $70,000 plus benefits. Now Jacksonville says it can only offer up to $55,000 and substantially fewer benefits.

Critics worry the new pay plan is intended to punish veteran teachers simply because they have spent their careers with the academically troubled Pulaski County Special School District.

And the new dual-seniority model approved by state Education Commissioner Johnny Key means those who taught in Jacksonville-area schools this year won’t be able to bump their way into teaching for PCSSD after detachment and locking down their higher pay.

Many of the teachers were supportive of separating with PCSSD and forming an independent Jacksonville school system. They knew firsthand what damage PCSSD’s dysfunction was causing their students and campuses.

Leader staff writer Rick Kron, who has taught fifth grade at Warren Dupree Elementary School for two years, spoke against the pay cut during Tuesday’s meeting. He has taught school for more than 20 years, so he faces a harsh pay cut. He told the board the plan does not reward teachers for earning advanced degrees and will drive away seasoned professionals and attract inexperienced faculty who leave the profession soon after starting.

Being a teacher can be a thankless job. It’s also tough being on the new school board, whose members know the city’s schools will not improve much without first building new campuses. And paying for new schools will be impossible without a millage increase and other financial sacrifices.

Though they probably expected some reductions in their pay, the severity of the cuts caught teachers off guard. It did us.

Tony Wood, the new superintendent of JNPSD, promised to review the pay plan next year and raise the pay if the district can afford more.

It will be years before we know if slashing teachers’ pay was worth it. The community is now demanding results from its schools, but nobody knows for certain how to achieve them.

Teachers’ salaries will be an issue in the September school board elections. There are three competitive races: Ron McDaniel vs. Celeste Williams, Richard Moss vs. Marcia Anne Dornblaser, and a three-way race with Jim Moore, Jerald Reichenbach and Barry Roper.

Of the sitting board members, only Moss voted against the pay schedule, which he said was unfair to teachers.

Four other races are uncontested: Board President Daniel Gray is running for the at-large Position 1 seat; board secretary Carol Denise Miles is seeking the Zone 2 spot; board member LaConda Watson is after the Zone 4 seat; and Dena Toney is unopposed for the Zone 5 seat.

The good news is everyone running lives in Jacksonville, whose last representative on PCSSD’s school board voted against Jacksonville having its own district. Times have changed.