School board considers lower new-hire wages to promote pay equity

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COLUMBIA - Fifth grade teacher Susan McClintic has been teaching in Columbia Public Schools for 28 years. She said she should be rewarded for her loyalty to the district.

"We have dedicated ourselves to this school district, and the fact that educators are being penalized for sticking with the same school just isn't right," McClinctic said.

Representatives from the Columbia Public School District Policy Committee met Monday evening to discuss a current policy that allows many newly hired teachers to get paid more than long-time teachers with the same amount of education and experience.

The issue has to do with "salary steps" which currently dictate pay raises for teachers in Columbia. Every "step" for a teacher's salary represents one year of experience. For instance, the 2014-2015 Teacher Salary Schedule shows a teacher with a bachelor's degree would get a raise of approximately $1,000 during their fifth year teaching.

With the recession in 2009, CPS froze these "steps" for employees for the 2008-2009 and the 2009-2010 school years. Thus, teachers working in the district did not get any "steps," or years of credit, for these frozen years. However, newly-hired teachers who worked for the same amount of time in a different district, still retained all of the pay "steps" they earned working in another district. 

"So new hires are being paid more than teachers who have been with the district for a long time," Columbia Board of Education member Jonathan Sessions said.

At the meeting, the policy committee discussed a new plan that would subject new hires to the same pay freeze experienced by teachers in the district during the time of the pay freeze. 

Consequently, newly hired teachers would lose the pay "step" they gained during the years of the pay freeze, even though they were not a part of the district at that time. The policy change would only be for future hires in the coming years and would not affect any current employees.

"The policy committee is finally looking at making sure that new hires don't come in at a higher rate of pay than current employees. This change would really help morale in the district," McClictic said.

One committee member raised a concern that lowering other teachers' pay would not help teachers recover the money lost from those frozen years of pay. 

Committee members voted to send the policy to be looked at by the human resources department, that will draft new language to present to the entire school board in February. For now, the current pay scale stands.