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Behind The Headlines: Challenges Facing Public School Teachers In St. Louis

University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Education's James Shuls (at left), SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams (at center) and Missouri NEA Legislative Director Otto Fajen discussed challenges surrounding teacher compensation.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Earlier this week, the local union representing educators who serve in St. Louis Public Schools began arbitration relating to its claims about pay discrepancy within the district.

American Federation of Teachers Local 420 claims many of its members are being paid less than colleagues with the same credentials and are seeking $10 million worth of salary increases and back pay for nearly 1,000 teachers and support staff.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh led a conversation in light of that news, touching on challenges surrounding teacher compensation as well as other matters. Joining the discussion were SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams, Missouri NEA Legislative Director Otto Fajen and the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Education’s James Shuls

Adams said he suspects the matter will be resolved in the next few months and that the biggest issue being litigated is teacher pay.

“Within the contract, it allows the district to hire persons in high-needs positions [with] a different salary rate as opposed to persons who might be coming in areas that are not considered high needs,” he said. “So I think the issue for the union is certain positions that they assume were high needs were not high needs from that perspective.”

Shuls said he’s weary of a single-salary-schedule pay system that he believes does not benefit teachers in the district.

“I think it's a bad policy up front to try to lump everyone into the same boat and pay everyone the exact same amount,” he said. “The salary is one of the best levers you have to drive your workforce to attract and retain people. And if we don't allow any flexibility on the district's part, we're undermining the district.”

Fajen disputed that notion and said equitable pay is important to also keeping teachers in that career field. The Missouri NEA position on professional compensation states that “an alternative pay plan should be considered only after a district/education institution has, over time, implemented a strong salary schedule.”

“We have some sympathy for the folks on the other side of the equation here in terms of the administrative side of things, because you have to make sure that what you're doing on a compensation system is perceived as fair and legitimate,” Fajen explained. “But when we look at how teachers experience the teaching position, like everybody else, like every other professional, a huge part of what really matters to them is what does it feel like.

“If they don't feel like they're supported, if they don't feel like they have a lot of ability to bring their creativity to bear, then they may decide teaching isn't really the right career path for them and move on when it really ought to be one of the best jobs on the planet.”

Listen to the full discussion:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdanand Jon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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