By Woodrow Polston
During the Van-Far R-I Board of Education meeting last Thursday, there was much discussion concerning teacher and staff salaries. After roll call and approval of the February minutes, the board opened the meeting to staff input. Fifth grade teacher, Amy Rost stood to address the board.
“I attended the Missouri State Teachers Association salary workshop a few week ago,” said Rost. “When you register in advance, they prepare all sorts of amazing reports for you about your district. I shared those with Mr. Fortney and he and I have talked about them a little bit. Our salary committee has also met with Mr. Fortney on Monday. First of all, we want to recognize that there have been a lot of amazing improvements on both campuses at Van-Far in the last few years. The facilities look better, and the board has been great stewards of our money. We have a 47% fund balance surplus, which MSTA has described as extremely healthy. They want a district our size to have between 20 and 25%.
Our concerns that we have though, are in regard to our staff. Many of us who are living here are not getting any younger. A lot of us will be close to retiring within the next 10 years. We have experienced somewhat of an open revolving door the past few years. I think that a lot of that has to do with our salaries that we offer here. Teachers can go just about anywhere and start off making between $2,000 and $6,000 more a year than they can here at Van-Far. This has made it difficult to recruit and retain teachers. We also recognize that the teachers are not the only members of staff that need raises. We have wonderful paraprofessionals, administrative staff and all of our non-certified employees to think about. I decided to look at my pay stubs going back to 2016. I discovered that I am bringing home about $70 more a month than I was six years ago. And that puts me in the hole due to the rising cost of health insurance. So, I am actually making about $110 less than I was in 2016,” added Rost.
Superintendent John Fortney went over the superintendent’s report. He discussed the work that has begun on the new athletics complex. He stated that a water line would have to be rerouted and that the city was going to be helping out with the water lines. He also gave a brief update on health insurance and then discussed the budget report.
“We are thankful to hear from the certified staff about concerns,” said Fortney. “We have a big gap on the classified side, specifically for our paraprofessionals and custodians. Districts, because of the ability to not have to adhere to the minimum wage laws, have been able to work through that. But what has happened over the years as we have given raises to people, we never raised that base. So right now, paraprofessionals that we hire today are starting at $12,480. If you break that down to an hourly rate, it comes out to be about $9.60 an hour. So obviously the people that are taking these jobs love what they do, they love the district, and they love the kids. So, we are working on different scenarios for how we can get that back in line. Minimum wage right now is $11.15 an hour. On January 21, 2023, it will increase to $12 an hour. One scenario that we are looking at would be an increase to get them up to $11.40. Next year, there another increase of 60 cents will get them to the new minimum wage. This may be aggressive, but we are going to lose people because they are struggling to pay their bills,” he added.
Principals and teachers gave updates to the board. Action items including changing wording in the Return to Learn Plan to “Masks are encouraged on all buses” and a Board Reorganization Meeting for April 19 were approved. A motion to adjourn regular meeting and enter executive meeting was made by Bryan Evans and seconded by Tony Dameron at 8:19 p.m.