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Kansas City Public Schools tops local districts in new teacher pay by $150. Will others ante up?

Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3

Teachers at Kansas City Public Schools will soon be paid the highest starting salaries in the region — but just by a smidge. The school board approved a new union contract in the middle of a widespread teacher shortage that's making districts across the region compete to recruit and retain educators.

Kansas City Public Schools will soon have the highest salaries in the area for new educators — although other districts are hot on their heels in raising teacher pay and expanding benefits to stay competitive.

Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, first-year teachers will make $46,650 because of a new union contract that the school board approved in a unanimous vote last month. That’s an 8% jump from the $43,100 minimum that new KCPS teachers currently make.

Jason Roberts, president of AFT Local 691 — the union that represents many Kansas City teachers — said the pay raise comes as a response to the chronic teacher shortage that’s taking a toll on districts nationwide.

“You want to do everything you can monetarily — I don't think everything in education is about money — but people's first thing they look at is money,” Roberts said. “And it's time to really start making an investment in educators.”

Missouri pays its teachers some of the lowest salaries in the nation, which makes it hard for school districts across the state to keep and attract staff. The average starting salary for Missouri’s teachers is just above $33,200 — only Montana pays new teachers less.

A report released in October 2022 by the Government Accountability Office found that 25% of teachers nationwide say they’re considering leaving the profession. And it showed that the two biggest factors contributing to educators leaving are the growing negative perception of the profession, and low salaries.

The General Assembly approved a temporary grant program to help boost pay last year — but educators are still waiting on a permanent change. A state commission on teacher recruitment and retention later urged lawmakers to permanently raise starting salaries across Missouri.

In the meantime, several districts in Kansas City are already inching up their pay.

The Hickman Mills School District, which currently pays some of the lowest salaries in the region, voted in November to boost teacher pay to $46,500. At the time, the district touted the highest ranked salary in the Kansas City area — but it was narrowly beaten by KCPS’s pay hike.

In the Lee’s Summit School District, a tax levy transfer on the April 4 ballot could allow the district to open up more funds to increase staff salaries. The school district said in recent years it has fallen behind in teacher starting pay as neighboring districts use levy transfers and increases to raise salaries.

The salary schedule for North Kansas City Schools will be ready by the end of April, according to district officials.

The Shawnee Mission School District is currently engaged in bargaining discussions for 2023-2024 salaries, but says salaries aren’t usually discussed until the Kansas Legislature passes the state budget. Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools said it will begin union negotiations soon.

Here’s a look at where new teacher salaries stand in the Kansas City area for the 2022-2023 school year, before those increases take effect:

  • Kansas City Public Schools: $43,100
  • North Kansas City Schools: $42,500
  • Hickman Mills School District: $38,000
  • Independence School District: $41,150
  • Lee's Summit School District: $40,326
  • Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools: $45,938
  • Shawnee Mission School District: $45,466


Finding other ways to keep and reward teachers

Kansas City Public School’s new contract also strives to reward the district’s longtime educators with a $1,500 annual incentive for teachers who have been in the district for 30 years. And it fully funds an extended salary scale that allows educators to keep progressing without being “stuck at the top.”

Beyond pay, another win for Kansas City teachers is the addition of paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers. Under the new contract, any parent who takes leave for the birth or adoption of their child is eligible for paid leave during the first two weeks.

Roberts said the school district would be the first in the state to offer that benefit.

“I think that it's so important that in education, when you're taking care of other people's children, that we show value to you to take care of your children,” Roberts said. “And we should not be hurting you financially by making you run out of PTO at one of the most expensive times of your life.”

Roberts said the push for paid parental leave came from looking at the contract through the lens of women, who make up the vast majority of the teacher population. That also informed negotiations to reduce the number of days spent on professional development.

Previously, the district held an hour-long professional development after school every Wednesday. Now, professional development will be held once a month on a Friday when no students are in attendance.

“When you have professional development after school, it becomes a childcare issue for teachers, predominantly women who bear the burden of picking up their children,” Roberts said. “Well, if I have to pay for childcare after school, that's affecting my bottom line.”

Kansas City’s new contract includes a diversity, equity and inclusion statement, and specifies that employees will be treated with dignity and respect. The union is now able to make the case and adjudicate if it believes an administrator is not displaying dignity and respect to employees.

Roberts said one of the top reasons that teachers leave the field is because they don’t feel valued or supported by school administration.

“If we give every single employee dignity and respect in the workplace, then we will see greater teacher retention,” Roberts said. “At this point, that's what every district should be after because there isn't a pool of applicants out there waiting to come so we have to fight to maintain every employee we've got.”

Getting competitive

Facing staffing shortages and waiting for legislative action, school districts in Missouri are also looking for creative ways to attract teachers.

The North Kansas City School District is reducing barriers to the field by paying its student teachers, who usually go unpaid. Student teachers receive a $2,500 stipend for the semester if they teach in the district. In fall 2023, that stipend will increase to $5,000 per semester.

The Independence School District will start a four-day school week beginning next school year, a switch made by many smaller and rural districts. With nearly 14,000 students, Independence is by far the largest district in Missouri to shorten the week.

The St. Joseph School District, which has more than 10,000 students, has also announced that it would explore a four-day school week, according to The Kansas City Star.

Copyright 2023 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

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Jodi Fortino