Teacher salaries were the main point of discussion Tuesday at an informational Mexico School District No. 59 Board of Education work session with the district staff. Options were posed for either making no changes, increases base pay, increasing step raises or a combination for the 195 certified staff. The board will make a final decision during a later meeting.

Superintendent Zach Templeton used comparative data provided by the Missouri State Teachers Association to figure into the myriad of options presented. He focused on neighboring counties and their districts.

He also analysed compression ratios, which is taking the top salary earner and the bottom salary earner and dividing the figures for a rate between first-year teachers and teachers with more experience. For example, with a compression rate of 2.0, a teacher with more than 15 years experience would be at $60,000, whereas a first-year teacher would make $30,000. The district's current compression rate is 1.62.

"A few years ago, when we were doing some of this work, that was one of the areas we felt we didn't compare very well,” he said. “So, we had a low compression ratio, which would mean that the longer you're here, you're not necessarily earning more than those beginning teachers."

In last year's budget, the district added $600 to step raises for teachers in years 20-30 with the district, if they had a master’s degree or beyond. That aided the district's compression ratio. Improving the district's compression ratio may be an area the board should continue to explore in regard to the salary schedule, when comparing to other district compression ratios from MSTA data, Templeton said. Boonville has a ratio of 1.75, Fulton's is 1.7 and Hallsville's is 1.86, he said.

"Whenever we talk about salary schedules, you know, there's levers that can have a different effect, impact on salary schedule," Templeton said. "If we want to have a high base salary, then we're going to do different things with that schedule than if we want a higher compression ratio."

Salary, retirement and medicare in the fiscal year 2019 salary schedule is $9,454,157.18. If the district were to make no changes to the schedule and teachers received their yearly step raise, that total would increase to $9,556,512.73 for fiscal year 2020.

Options presented included increasing the step raise amount for more experienced teachers, the base pay rate, or a combination of the two. The compression ratio would be most improved by regular step raise for teachers in years one to nine with the district, no increase to the base pay rate, and adding $600 to the step raises for teachers who have worked in the district for more than 10 years. The ratio would increase to 1.65.

The board also has to consider the question of teacher retention or recruitment, Templeton said. "Higher base are good for recruitment. Higher compression ratio is good for retention," he said.

All of the considerations for teacher salary must be parsed with support staff salary and any other priorities of the board for other funds, such as hiring additional support staff.

"Competition for teachers... is increasingly fierce," said board President Dustin Pascoe. "We need to stay competitive. For that reason, I would endorse maybe doing more upfront, and obviously, I want to reward people who have shown loyalty to us."

However, the district does not want to find itself in a situation where they can't keep teachers, he said. "We don't have to set the budget tonight, but we do need to set the salary schedule in this month, so we can get contracts issued," Templeton said. "You want to impact the compression ratio gradually. ... I think if you've been here for 20-plus years, you should get maybe more of a pay raise than someone that has been here for two years, but should it be $2,000 more? ... The earlier you put (the raises in) the more it affects your compression ratio."

The district has been more conservative the past few years with certified salary, Templeton said, due to limited revenue from levies and valuations. That has changed though recently and it may be a time to spend a bit more on teachers. The board still needs to tread into increases carefully, though, he said.

"I'm not trying to ... I think (budget) numbers are pretty good, but there are some areas where that number should have been a lot different than it was," he Templeton said. "In the grand scheme of all of that, it's maybe a $100,000 swing. ... We want to be smart with it. We want to do good things with it and we don't want to waste it."