South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

More than $900 to be added to Mehlville teachers’ base pay

Board votes 5-2 to approve 1-percent pay hike for classified staff.

More than $900 will be added to Mehlville teachers’ base salaries for the 2011-2012 school year, the district’s chief financial officer said Friday.

Teachers will remain on the same step on the certified salary schedule this year as they were in 2010-2011, but the amount of that step will increase by $950, CFO Noel Knobloch said.

The pay increase is the result of higher-than-projected district balances at the end of the previous school year, a surplus that triggered a revenue-sharing clause in a memorandum of understanding between the Board of Education and the Mehlville National Education Association.

That provision stated if end-of-year balances exceeded projections by $500,000 or more, half of the excess funds would be added to the certified salary schedule.

When the district closed the books on 2010-2011, its general and teachers fund balances totaled $14,937,349 — roughly $2.1 million greater than the $12,825,516 initially projected, according to information provided by Knobloch.

The amount of surplus over the $500,000 threshold came to $1,611,833, meaning $805,917 will be given to teachers.

Of that total, $670,120 will be devoted to salaries, the rest to retirement contributions, Medicare and workers’ compensation. Divided among 706 certified positions, the final salary step adjustment will be $950.

The district’s 2011-2012 budget was prepared with only salary channel changes in mind as certified and classified personnel salary steps were frozen at 2010-2011 levels.

In the certified salary schedule, channels denote a teacher’s level of education. Each channel also includes steps that represent each year a teacher has worked.

With the salary step adjustment, the starting base salary for a Mehlville teacher will increase to $35,709 from $34,759.

Knobloch has attributed the surplus to an additional $775,000 in state revenue and more than $1 million in cost savings by the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

An extra $236 was added to teachers’ base salaries last year after end-of-year balances exceeded projections by more than $200,000, the threshold agreed to by the board and MNEA in the previous MOU.

Hourly classified district employees also will see their current salary step increase this school year as the Board of Education approved a 1-percent raise last week.

The board voted 5-2 Aug. 18 to approve the pay increase. Board members Rich Franz and Mark Stoner were opposed.

The increase will cost the district $120,000 plus $15,000 in payroll taxes. Knobloch has said there is enough “cushion” in the 2011-2012 budget to absorb the certified and classified pay increases.

As with teachers, classified staff — such as nurses, secretaries and custodians — will remain on their current salary step, but the amount of the step will increase.

Officials have said they’ve traditionally tied certified and classified staff pay increases together out of fairness to both groups. However, the board voted last month to postpone a decision on the classified raise until it could discuss budget priorities at its annual retreat.

Some board members at the time questioned whether the raise was the best use of the surplus funds, while others contended granting a pay increase to teachers and not to classified staff would be detrimental to morale. That discussion continued last week.

During a period for public comment, Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association co-founder Ken Meyer asked the board “to take into consideration that we are living in a different time currently. Washington may operate their system without a budget, but we do have a budget here at the Mehlville School District. We need to learn to live within that budget.”

Classified employees “certainly probably deserve the pay raise. I’m not here to condemn them …,” Meyer added, “but yet at the same time we need to spend the money our money wisely, and this is not the time or the place to be giving pay raises, and I’m talking specifically about the non-certified people.”

Board member Ron Fedorchak later said he appreciated Meyer’s comments but contended that “this board and previous boards have been very fiscally responsible and put the district on very good footing. And in fact, that’s where this money’s coming from …”

Fedorchak added that “several classified employees” were “very insulted” when some board members commented at the July meeting that there may be better ways to spend the additional funds.

“So I just bring that for consideration that we as board members can kill morale by our actions,” he said.

Board Secretary Elaine Powers suggested offering a bonus to classified employees rather than adding money to the salary schedule. But Knobloch said such a move was not allowed by Missouri law.

“Just to give somebody a $300 bonus, that is not appropriate under state statutes because you’re giving it for no extra work being performed,” he said, noting the district has separate schedules for additional compensation. “But you can adjust their schedules to give them a raise which is then in line for the work they are currently doing.”

Stoner said while he is not against salary increases for employees, the board and the district “is going about this the wrong way.” He said the district should undertake “a wage and salary review to see if you are attracting the right quantity/quality of candidates” before increasing base salaries.

“That’s fundamentally why I’m against this,” he said. “We have not done that as a district. I’d like to point that out.”

Stoner suggested granting “partial step” increases instead of raising base salaries, a “forever pay increase for the district.”

Knobloch replied that human resources officials two years ago conducted a study on classified salaries around the St. Louis area and matched up the district’s rates accordingly.

“To say that these are not rates which are established based upon market is completely incorrect,” Knobloch said.

Stoner then referenced comments made at July’s meeting by Assistant Superintendent-Supervision of Schools Lisa Counts — formerly head of human resources — who estimated the district may get as many as 20 qualified applicants for a classified opening.

“That tells me clearly that we are being competitive in the marketplace,” Stoner said.

Knobloch responded that the large pool of applicants is attributable to high unemployment and not all who apply will pass background checks.

“We may get 100 people, and there may only be four good candidates,” Knobloch said.

Board member Tom Diehl added, “The other thing is just because we can hire new people every year, we’ve got people that have been with us 10, 15, 20, 30 years, and they’re entitled to some respect as well.”

Knobloch disputed the claim the raises would be permanent.

“If you want to rescind them next year, you can go back to the step schedule that was in effect without adding the 1 percent. Your concern that it’s etched in here forever, that’s not actually the case,” he said. “Obviously you’d be cutting people’s salaries, but as a board, if the budget so requires, you can do that. Just because you add 1-percent to the steps doesn’t mean it’s there forever, but you certainly can’t get them to the next step because that’s a 3-percent raise.

“To set another artificial step in between would be just as problematic as adding 1-percent to the existing step. So it’s an approach which is workable. Is it perfect? No, but there are a lot of things with our compensation schedules on the teacher side and classified side that are not perfect.”

Stoner later said it would be “bad policy” for the board to grant raises and take them away the next year.

Board Vice President Larry Felton said the administration’s relationship with employees is what makes the district unique.

“So I think we have a responsibility to equip our administration to be successful,” Felton said. “I think we have a responsibility of consistency. I will agree that we need to take a look at the way we do our memorandum of understanding, but we do that every year. We take a look at its content, its scope and what we want to accomplish with it.

“But for consistency and the fact that we have no alternative that we can do in the next five minutes, I think we need to be consistent with the classified employees with the same thing we did for certified. I think we need to take a strong look moving forward. There are other approaches to this, but right now I believe the classified salaries are basically being held hostage and until we have an alternative I think we should pass this.”

Board member Rich Franz, who participated in last week’s meeting over the telephone, said, “I’m hearing a number of comments — Tom, Larry, Ron — that this boils down to morale. Folks, so we’re going to tell the taxpayers that we’re giving away this money because we want people to feel good about their jobs and to like us? That’s what I’m hearing. Did anybody hear Mr. Meyer’s comments at the beginning of the meeting? We’re living in a new age, we’re living in a new world … and I’m not sure a lot of you folks are thinking about that. I know you’d all like the employees to love you, and Tom you’ve basically admitted that this pay raise boils down to nothing more than morale. Well there’s a lot more at stake than that …

“As soon as it’s viable, as soon as the economy recovers and more importantly, as soon as the people who own this school district … feel it’s appropriate to give those pay raises, then we’re willing to do that. Because school board, let’s not forget: We have a credibility issue. That message has been sent to us by the community over and over again in the last 12 months. I know some of you don’t want to think about that, but that’s the case. And if you give this pay raise, you’re sending the message to that community … that it’s business as usual …”

Toward the end of last week’s meeting, Diehl thanked classified employees, noting they’re “responsible for the safety and health of our children.”

“And if you’re a parent, that’s something that’s appreciated,” Diehl said. “I think we need to realize that our staff is quite professional and caring and does an excellent job.”

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