Poplar Bluff lawmaker seeks to limit school superintendent pay

Monday, February 15, 2016

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff, will attempt to address the pay disparity between teachers and school superintendents through proposed legislation.

House Bill 1627 would prohibit superintendents from receiving pay greater than four times the salary of an entry-level teacher. Other provisions in the bill would require schools to report salaries to the press and allow taxpayers to bring action for violations.

A similar bill died in the legislature last year.

Cookson, a former superintendent of the Naylor, Missouri, school district and a current chairman current House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said the legislation stems from his experiences in meetings with other superintendents, claiming salaries and perks too often were emphasized over academics.

"No matter what the topic was we were talking about, the most important to many of my colleagues was what were the salaries and which school was paying more, when they came open and what time can we get done and get out on the golf course," Cookson said.

"It started to eat at me that their motivating factors were to make more money," he said.

About 20 superintendents in Missouri make more than $250,000 per year, and about 100 superintendents make more than $200,000 per year, according to Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Nearly all of those above the $200,000 mark are in the greater St. Louis and Kansas City areas.

"They will argue that they are overseeing a lot of stuff. But overseeing it, and also having a lot of assistant superintendents and a lot of directors and administrative cost that are taking resources out of the classroom, I don't understand how that helps educate students," Cookson said.

The highest paid superintendent in the state is Lee's Summit superintendent David McGehee, who earned $294,963 in 2015, according to the state. Teachers in that district start at $37,400.

"I'm not saying any of the schools down in our area have overpaid superintendents, but when the Lee's Summit superintendent has a $300,000 package and has 30 days vacation each year, plus a car, plus all kinds of expense accounts, his dues are paid to all these organizations -- you know, that's taxpayer money," Cookson said.

A clause in HB 1627 would exempt home-rule cities of more than 400,000 population and in more than one county -- St. Louis and Kansas City proper.

"I was surprised our highest paid superintendents weren't from Kansas City and St. Louis, but they weren't. They were from the suburbs," said Cookson. "In those complicated urban districts, you have a lot of issues."

Another bill filed by Cookson, House Bill 1626, would raise minimum teacher salaries in 2017-2018 from $25,000 to $30,000 with a bachelors and from $33,000 to $35,000 with a master's degree.

"Nothing affects a child's education more than a good teacher in the classroom. That is the number one thing we can do from a public policy standpoint -- to ensure that we are providing the children with the best teachers in the classroom. To do that, we are going to have to start compensating them," Cookson said.

HB 1626 would also create a special fund in the state treasury to help school districts meet the teacher salary increase.

The "Teacher Minimum Salary Fund" would distribute money to each district based on the difference between the salary and the minimum proposed in the legislation.

"Big cities don't like that because they know it will put it down in rural school districts, where teachers are below that (minimum salary). I talked to rural superintendents. They said, 'Uh ... that may mean we are able to pay them $30,000, but can't give them step increases for many years.'

"I said, 'Well, it's a step in the right direction,'" Cookson said.

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