Hickman Mills’ plan to boost midlevel teacher pay would slash salaries of many longtime teachers

There is no “perfect” recommendation, Superintendent Dennis Carpenter said. But the proposal the committee is presenting “tried to soften the blow.”
There is no “perfect” recommendation, Superintendent Dennis Carpenter said. But the proposal the committee is presenting “tried to soften the blow.” The Kansas City Star

A move in the Hickman Mills School District to make a more competitive salary structure for teachers could slash the pay of some longtime teachers by $6,000 to $7,000 a year or more.

“I always thought of Hickman Mills as my home,” teacher Cindi Forney said at a crowded school board meeting Thursday night.

“I care for my students. I want to stay, but I can’t if it’s going to cost my family $14,000.”

Forney and her husband, also a teacher, are two of 73 teachers who would be affected.

The south Kansas City district is in a hard place, teachers and administrators agree, as it tries to stem the tide of midrange teachers with advanced degrees who have been leaving for surrounding districts.

The district, in its proposal, would be investing some $800,000 more in salaries — but with casualties.

The affected teachers, who represent about 13 percent of the district’s 550 teachers, would be grandfathered in for one year.

But the cost of grandfathering will add $448,000 to the overall increase in salaries in 2015-2016, Superintendent Dennis Carpenter told The Star.

A committee of teachers and administrators that prepared the changes weighed the costs against the number of teachers who would suffer losses, he said.

There is no “perfect” recommendation, Carpenter said. But the proposal the committee is presenting “tried to soften the blow.”

After debating more than an hour Thursday, the school board asked the administration to bring back more options, including even more aggressive proposals.

State records show that the among Hickman Mills’ 15 closest and most comparable Missouri area districts, it is next to last in the average experience of its teachers, ahead only of Raytown, and next to last in the percentage of teachers with advanced degrees, ahead only of Kansas City.

It has the lowest average teacher salary of the area districts, in large part because it is losing many experienced, advanced-degree teachers.

The committee thinks one year of grandfathering would give teachers time to begin adding more postgraduate education to improve their status on the revised pay chart.

The affected teachers wish the district could give them longer support. It would take many of them more than a year to earn higher degrees.

“I know the district needs (to keep more middle-level teachers),” said teacher Anthony Lightfoot, who said he could lose $12,000. “But I can’t pay for it all.”

The district may not legally be able to cut those teachers’ pay, said Sharon Swanson of the Missouri National Education Association.

The organization intends to argue that the cuts represent a demotion, which the district could not impose on tenured teachers without allowing them a hearing.

Carpenter disagrees. The proposed schedule changes were adopted by a committee of three administrators and 10 teachers, he said.

“I do not believe that the schedule unanimously recommended … results in a demotion,” he said.

Most districts pay according to schedules that boost pay as teachers gain experience but allow even greater increases when teachers add postgraduate education credits.

Hickman Mills is looking to set up a schedule, similar to many districts, that caps the number of years any teacher can get a scheduled increase. Teachers have opportunities for more years of scheduled increases as they add credits and degrees.

Even with the changes, Hickman Mills would trail most districts in the strength of its salary schedule, enticing experienced teachers to seek other opportunities, board members noted.

“It doesn’t fix the problem,” board president Eric Lowe said. “That’s my biggest struggle with this. We’re giving Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs (school districts) the cream of our crop. … Until we fix the problem, we’re not able to change the tide in this district.”

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.