By Sue Kiesewetter
LIBERTY TWP. - Lakota could simplify the way it pays its teachers, depending on the outcome of a soon-to-be created committee.
Next month, a 10-member group with representatives chosen by Superintendent Kathleen Klink and the Lakota Education Association will begin looking at salary structures. The committee has until May 15 to make recommendations to negotiators.
Ohio law mandates that salaries be based on a combination of education and experience.
"They're not the first board to look at this. It gets talked about, but the unions have been very reluctant to change the structure," said John Brandt, executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association.
He said if Lakota goes through with the change, it would be the first in the state.
The goal of the committee, according to the agreement, is to keep salaries competitive, to be fiscally responsible and develop a pay structure that does not include merit pay. But it would still take into consideration teachers' educational levels and experience.
Lakota is creating the committee through an agreement as part of a one-year contract narrowly approved Monday.
The contract also gives teachers a 1 percent pay increase in their base salary. Under the agreement, retroactive to Sept. 1, a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience will earn $31,441 a year, said Alan Hutchinson, school treasurer.
When step increases are factored in, the average teacher's increase will be about 3.2 percent, said board member Dan Warncke, who with board member Jeff Jones voted against the agreement.
The range of increases could be 1 percent to 6 percent, depending on a teacher's education and experience, said David Greenburg, Lakota's director of employee relations. .
"This contract, while certainly modest ... does nothing about step (increases)," Warncke said. "It says, 'We'll talk.' "
Both Warncke and Jones said they would have preferred a stronger commitment to changing the salary schedule. Warncke gave an example that showed the pay for a teacher with a bachelor's degree, starting with no experience, doubling from $22,397 in 1994 to $45,138 in 2003.
Board members Sandy Wheatley, Joan Powell and Susan McLaughlin, who voted for the contract, disagreed.
"I see what LEA is doing as groundbreaking," said McLaughlin, who teaches in the Princeton Schools.
Greenburg said options to consider could be higher starting salaries and reduced step increases, or providing financial incentives for additional training.
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