Two things are well known about public schools which are mandated to accept and accomodate every child that walks through their doors, regardless of socio-economic status, disability, race, culture, dominate superstition, etcetera.
The first is that socio-economic status of the student is the number one determinate of success in the classroom. (For a perfect example in the Mehlville School District, compare Forder Elementary to Rogers Elementary.)
The second well known fact is that nothing (after socio-economic status) affects the additive and cummulative success (or failure) of a student than a highly effective teacher in the classroom.
So How Does Mehlville Fare Academically?
In a recent commnity-wide email from Superintendent Dr. Knost, he notified us that "Of the 559 public school districts and charter schools, only 26, or less than 5% appear to have outperformed the Mehlville School District."
Given what we know about public education, Mehlville's teachers must be paid really well, right?
How Is That Possible?
When I was first elected to Mehlville's Board of Education, we were losing more than 70 classroom teachers a year to optional retirement and through "brain drain" (to other districts who pay their teachers more).
Not only did other school districts pay more, but Mehlville was second from the bottom in pay in the St. Louis Metropolitan area.
The only district with lower pay than Mehlville was Bayless.
Mehlville residents regularly support building new buildings in our community, but buildings don't teach children, teachers teach children.
Mehlville teachers are still second from the bottom in pay
The Mehlville Board of Education at the time did not like the brain drain and decided that even if we could not catch the teachers up to the median, we could certainly re-prioritize our spending so that we can stop the brain drain and place Mehlville in a healthier position to hire and retain highly effective teachers.
We gave a series of raises to make teaching in Mehlville a more attractive alternative for qualified teachers in the community. One was a 6% across the board raise, and another was a tax transfer appoved by the community that allowed us to move money into operations and once again fund teacher salary increases, catch teachers up on lost salary step increases commiserate to experience, and push the entire pay schedule up by placing money on the base.
It worked. The much deserved pay increases, as well as a down economy, helped us retain our highly qualified classroom teachers. (In addition, we reversed the culture of fear and lack of trust between classroom teachers and the administration, but that is a story for another day and another time.)
The fruits of those types of efforts are never immediate. The results of hiring and retaining quality staff take a few years to materialize, which brings us back to Dr. Knost's email and Mehville's current academic succes.
We paid the price politically because of a local press in dire need of controversy to sell advertising, but as you can see with Mehlville's current academic performance, our efforts to hire and retain highly effective teachers are now paying off.
That said, much is changing for the worse internally. While the employed administration and classroom teachers are still working well together, the grumblings are that it's getting tentative.
However, the fault is not with the administration. Instead it lies with many of the current board of education, and they are who the administration anwers too.
Low informed voters and mis-informed board members think public education should be like certain sectors of private industry, that we have a merit pay system. But as I mentioned above, because of what we know about public education (the number one determinate of a student's performance is their socio-economic status) there is no fair way to determine merit pay.
Again, refer to Forder Elementary to Rogers Elementary. Do you honestly think it's the quality of the teacher between those two schools in the Mehlville School District that makes such a difference in test scores?
The bottom line was articulated well by former Superintendent Terry Noble when he said, "Mehlville doesn't have bad teachers because we evaluate them out of the business."
As a father of three fifth-generation children in the district, and former school board member, I believe all of the classroom teachers deserve a merit pay raise.
As Dr. Knost said, "With a low per pupil expenditure and a high performance rating, congratulations to our school district for being one of the top performers in the state of Missouri."
But this quality performance didn't happen in a vacuum. Since we know that the number one determinate of a student's success in the classroom (after socio-economic status) is a highly effective teacher, then it should go without saying that our efforts to retain our good teachers have paid off.
Time is Running Out
Unfortunately, over he last two years, that support from the board of paying teachers well and giving them their much deserved pay raises in the event of double-digit balances has waned with the minority-voter election of several advocates of the Tea Party Movement.
The economy, albeit slowly, is getting better. The down economy has assisted a little in helping to retain highly effective teachers in Mehlville's classrooms, but unless you are wishing for a down economy to continue, that benefit will soon dissappear.
Test scores and annual report performance 2-5 years from now will be a direct result of the staffing and pay decisions current board of education and administration.
If the economy fails, they don't have much to worry about, but if the economy contines to grow, our board of education will reward the children of our community with a less than stellar annual report and the lifetime consequences of a lesser education.
Regardless of the future, our current classroom teachers deserve an across the board merit raise now!
Our community has ridden the backs of the teachers and their good will long enough. As I said, buildings don't teach students, teachers teach students. All you need for a child to learn, is a quality teacher and a place for them to educate their students.
A highly effective classroom teacher can squeeze the blood from a turnip and all they need is a child to listen.
At Mehlville, our latest performance report proves that we have hundreds of highly effective teachers and it's time to reward their good efforts with a substantial raise.
It's a disagrace and a complete abuse of our classroom teachers' good will that we continue to pay them so low. In time it will cost us all much more than a fair raise would cost us now.