Small Schools, Big Benefits
Becky Ross has been teaching first grade at New Bloomfield Elementary in Callaway County for nine years.
"The small school setting makes it a little more family like. I've gotten to know a lot of students and a lot of families," Ross said.
Though her heart is in New Bloomfield, her home is in Columbia. Ross's daughter starts kindergarten in the fall, and Ross has made the decision to transfer to Columbia Public Schools too. A 30-minute commute no longer makes sense. One thing that will make the transition easier is Columbia's pay rate, a starting base salary of $33,000. In New Bloomfield that base pay is $7,000 less.
"We don't have as many resources as larger districts, but that doesn't stop us," said Ross.
It's not just salaries in rural schools that might scare away some teachers like MU education major Travis Rice.
"People want to go to a school that has a lot of resources available, that has money available for their own classroom," Rice said. "Because as teachers were not paid the high salary, and to spend money on your own classroom gets very costly."
Rice taught in Harlem as part of Teach for America, a group that puts teachers in struggling urban environments. Rice thinks education already lacks funding, and rural schools are usually the last to get resources. That's somewhat true in New Bloomfield where the district provides the basics like textbooks, but Ross has spent her own money on extras. Over the past nine years, Ross says she's paid for more than 500 additional books for kids to read in the classroom, which adds up to a lot of money, even when shopping for bargains.
"A lot of us have scavenged at garage sales or scholastic book sales and we have to put that together ourselves," Ross said. "We borrow from other co-teachers. We share a lot of resources to get the things we need to teach."
That's part of the family atmosphere that Ross has always loved about New Bloomfield, where teachers are resourceful. Josh Lancaster teaches history at Hallsville High School. He also enjoys the benefits of a smaller district.
"I don't have any family around here, and they brought me in and really made me feel like I belong, like I've got a home, a place where I've got family," Lancaster said.
Hallsville works to stay competitive in other ways. Superintendent Tom Baugh said next year his district is sweetening its base pay for starting teachers.
"Recognizing that we have limited revenues, smaller budgets, we still know we need to be competitive with surrounding schools," Baugh said. "We have a wonderful insurance program, board paid health insurance and dental program."
Yet Baugh says that the family feel and the smaller class sizes make smaller school districts an attractive opportunity for teachers. The district superintendent says the average class size in Hallsville less than 18 students. In Columbia, the average class size is 20.