Mehlville teachers receive 6-percent across-the-board raise

Chambers pleased with OK of salary package for ’07-’08


A 6-percent across-the-board salary increase for teachers was approved last week by the Mehlville Board of Education.

Board members voted unanimously April 19 to approve the salary increase for the 2007-2008 school year. Teachers last year received pay raises ranging from 1.62 percent to 6.88 percent.

Besides the pay increase, the agreement approved with the Mehlville National Education Association includes:

• Increasing the certified staff up to 20 positions.

• Re-establishing the three-tier bus system.

• Increasing the maintenance budget to enhance staffing and equipment.

• Reducing the cost of insurance premiums to staff members and their dependents. District coverage will include orthodics for employees and an increase in the durable medical equipment benefit.

Introducing the proposal, interim Superintendent Jerry Chambers said, “This is a very important item on the board’s agenda. It’s always been an important item and that is the compensation level that we will provide our teaching staff. I’m happy to report that with three meetings, we come to you with a proposal — we come to the Board of Education with a proposal tonight.”

Chambers recognized those who served on the discussions team:

• Representing teachers were Kay Cappos, chief negotiator, and Ellen Woulfe, Karen Torretta, Bob Faust and Mike Ghormley.

• Representing the administration and board were: Chambers, Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost, Assistant Superintendent for Supervision of Instruction Vicki VanLaere, interim Director of Human Resources Jim Fischer, interim Chief Financial Officer Brent Bell, board President Tom Diehl, board Vice President Karl Frank Jr., board member Cindy Christopher, Buerkle Middle School Assistant Principal Christa Warner and Beasley Elementary Principal Jenny Dasher.

“… I’d like to say a few things. I think we did this right, but some people might question it,” Chambers said. “This is my one and only year as superintendent of Mehlville and I hate to talk about what things I’ve done in the past, but my philosophy has always been … the first thing we do with our budget is to take care of our teaching staff. Some people might criticize: ‘Well, everything’s not in place yet. How can we approve this tonight?’

“This is the most important thing we do as a school system. That was true nine of the 10 years I was in Washington — we gave a two-year contract one year — and at Wolf Branch School District in Illinois,” he said. “Sometimes we have this wrapped up in February or March. Did we know how our budget’s bottom line was going to turn out? No. In fact, Brent Bell and any chief financial officer will tell you, sometimes you don’t know until October. But what I’ve always believed in — I know several of these board members do — is that we’ve got to put the teaching staff first.

“Some people here think this is early. This is late for me … I don’t want to speak for the teachers, but I think we were all thrilled with the way we were able to come to resolution. At the second meeting, it was clear that we were going to dig too far into our balances and it wasn’t really probably what we needed to do. And I think Karl and Tom will tell you, they were at that meeting with the administration, that the teaching staff felt we’ve got to back that down, too. It’s just not realistic,” he said.

The interim superintendent outlined the proposal to the board.

“We propose to the board that compensation for the teaching staff be increasing salaries 6 percent — that’s not an average of 6 percent … It’s 6 percent across the board,” he explained.

During a discussion, Ocello asked Bell how the 6-percent raises would impact the district’s bottom line next year.

Bell said, “… To do the raises as mentioned as well as — just to put this budget together, I had to put some numbers in here, so it does assume a 6-percent raise for other employee groups. I had to use some number, OK? So to do that, you’ll see that’s at an 8.5-percent balance for next year …”

That projected 8.5-percent operating fund balance includes food service, activities and athletics. Excluding food service, activities and athletics, a 7.71-percent operating fund balance is projected. Under state law, a school district is required to maintain a 3-percent balance in its operating fund — a combination of the general fund and the teachers’ fund — or be considered a “distressed” district.

As projected, the 7.71-percent fund operating fund balance would total $6,381,205 — $3,899,626 more than the required 3-percent balance of $2,481,579.

Ocello later asked Bell about the operating fund balance projected for the current school year.

Bell said, “… The last version that came to the board showed about a 10.10(-percent fund balance), and I went through the budget again and looked at different areas and right now we’re estimated at 12.5 (percent).”

Ocello asked what the projected fund balance would be excluding food service, activities and athletics.

Bell replied, “… It would be about a percentage less.”

Ocello said, “… To me, this is a very important vote and it’s very significant and I think it’s wonderful if we go there. I just want to make really sure that, at least in my own mind, what I’m hearing here is that we’re saying: We’re going to do 6 percent and that the teachers are going to feel good about that, and that they clearly understand that next year, depending on where things are at, there may not be a raise …”

Cappos said, “… This is what I told them that obviously that next year we would not be coming back with a similar-type proposal … Actually, (in the) eight years I’ve done negotiations, we have never put more money into the teachers fund than we have the year before. This is the first time that we’ve ever done that, and usually we have funded raises based on retirements. So there is a possibility with retirements that we could fund channels and steps. I have told people that would be a high priority. I have told them there may be $1 to put on the base and that is all, if even that.

“So they are well aware of that and they are very appreciative that you are doing this, this year …,” she said.

She later added that teachers voted unanimously to accept the package.

” … It was a hundred-percent unanimous vote and we have never, ever had that before. So I think that alone says how much they appreciate (the package) …,” Cappos said.

Ocello said, “Hopefully, there will be money for additional raises next year … This is close and I want to make sure that we’re all on the some sheet of music.”

Chambers told the Call he was pleased with the board’s approval of the agreement with teachers, noting the board “approved a major part of our budget for 2007-2008.”

“Other than fixed expenses such as utilities, upkeep of facilities and anticipated expenses for busing, approval of salaries for our teaching staff has always been the first budget consideration I have school-board members tackle. The most important mission of the public schools is the education and guidance of young people. That mission is primarily accomplished in the classroom over in activities taught by our teachers.

“Other than school safety, it seems to me that the most important responsibility for the superintendent of schools is to ensure quality teachers in those classrooms and in those student activities,” he said. “Through our evaluation process, I am convinced that we have already a top-notch teaching staff in the Mehlville School District. As indicated by prestigious achievements and recognitions from the state of Missouri, it is also a fact that student achievement is very strong in our district. On May 1, board members and I will be officially accepting the Distinction in Performance Award on behalf of our students and staff.

“The board’s approval of my recommendation for an across-the-board salary increase of 6 percent for our teachers should be commended. We need to retain this quality teaching staff, keep their morale and enthusiasm at a high level and reward them accordingly for their great work with students.

“Our staff salaries are near the bottom when compared to all other districts in St. Louis County. We have lost some quality teachers to other districts during the past few years. Teachers have to pay bills and raise families, too. Some of these attractive offers from other school districts were too attractive for them to pass up. Most teachers continue to want to work and thrive in the Mehlville School District. Even though our financial situation here is not great, the board and administration felt that we needed to focus our discretionary spending on retaining and attracting quality staff members.

“Once again, I want to applaud our teachers and to thank the Board of Education for supporting my salary proposal last Thursday evening (April 19),” Chambers said.