Columbus School District hopes a new compensation model will attract new teachers to the district and entice quality educators to stay.
A group of teacher representatives, Toni McGee, Vince Kube and Heidi Kirchberg, presented a certified staff compensation plan at the April 22 school board meeting at City Hall. The group worked on the plan for more than a year and was excited to bring it to the board.
Through the compensation structure, new teachers would start with a base pay of $39,758 for the 2019-2020 school year. Every year following, teachers would get a slight salary increase.
“We’ve been looking at different compensation models from all sorts of districts within our state and even other states, trying to see what kinds of changes need to happen to our compensation plan,” Kirchberg said. “After looking at many different models, we took bits and pieces of different ones and put this one together.”
In recent years, the district has struggled to retain teachers. Starting pay in Columbus is considered low and the district realizes it must stay competitive with other area districts. McGee said pressure to stay current with Madison-area districts such as Lodi, Sun Prairie and DeForest also pushed the district to change pay structure. Act 10, controversial legislation passed by the state in 2011, also curbed pay and teachers’ benefits.
“After Act 10 (teachers) were just plopped on a pay schedule with no movement,” McGee said.
She said after Act 10, teachers were not compensated for earning master’s degrees and completing professional development work. Under the new model, teachers can receive additional pay for earning advanced degrees and finishing professional growth and leadership courses. McGee said the new model is only the second salary schedule since Act 10 was passed.
“We’ve put a lot of research into this and we feel good about the product,” McGee said.
Board Member Keith Loppnow asked if performance reviews would factor into teachers receiving raises. McGee said the new salary schedule would not be related to reviews.
“In the past few years we haven’t had a lot of people going into education,” said Board Member Mike O’Brien. “This could help maybe swing it back a bit.”
Business Services Director Janel DeZarn-Vertz said as the district prepares its 2019-20 budget, it will account for the raise in teachers’ base salary.
A petition to remove Superintendent Annette Deuman and Board President Cindy Damm was denied by the board last week. The petition, also calling for the repeal of policy governance, was filed by a group of parents concerned with perceived issues in the district.
According to former Board Clerk Mary Arnold, the petition lacked specific items to be considered valid.
On Monday, parents kept heat on the board, speaking about concerns they have with Columbus leadership during the meeting’s public comment portion. Barclay Hesselberg, husband of former Board Member Barb Hesselberg, claimed his wife’s questions about board policy were often dismissed. Hesselberg resigned in February. Barclay Hesselberg spoke about a statement the board made at its April 8 meeting regarding the petition.
“In an effort to extract themselves from this upheaval, they conflated several issues and appeared to imply that my wife was somehow associated with the mass of disgruntled parents in the community,” Hesselberg said. “After her resignation, they wrote, ‘When individual board members cannot work within the structure, they often place blame.’ I’ll assume you were talking about my wife.”
Hesselberg claimed his wife was told the board “does things our own way.”
Parents Lee Trask and Shane Gille emphasized that their problems with the district are not associated with the teachers and principals, but specifically with leadership at the top.
“I love all three of our principals,” Gille said. “They’re amazing.”
Gille spoke at a March board meeting about his displeasure with district leadership and said he received more than 100 emails and Facebook messages, including from Columbus teachers.
“Teachers here feel like they’re strong-armed and have no say,” Gille said.
Trask addressed a private meeting board members planned to have with parents. Trask feels concerns should be addressed in open, public forums. He specifically talked about the elementary school’s low Department of Public Instruction grade from the state on its previous two report cards. Trask said disappointing math and science scores could affect students as they progress through school.
“That lays the bedrock for their future studies,” he said.
Sara Sample, who teaches third grade at Columbus Intermediate School, said students really enjoy the Units of Study learning model. The district implemented Units of Study, for K-8 students, in the fall of 2017 to improve writing, reading and math proficiency.
“The kids are having way too much fun,” Sample said. “They love the writing and research. I’m so excited to see what will happen for them in the future.”
John Pearson, a substitute teacher in the district, supports Deuman and Columbus teachers. Pearson said while the district isn’t perfect, Deuman’s door is always open to discuss any concerns. Pearson, a member of the Launch Forward initiative, said while district facilities are an issue, most parents at the April 8 meeting left before hearing an update from the Facilities Study Committee.
“About 90 percent of folks left before the presentation,” Pearson said. “I think we need to focus on the good stuff happening in the district.”