CMSD to use $200K audit windfall to help fund employee pay incentives


Jason Spears, left, and Cherie Labat

Jason Spears, left, and Cherie Labat



Mary Pollitz



Columbus Municipal School District will use nearly $200,000 of excess funds found in its 2018 audit to help fund its Teacher Incentive Pay Plan. 


District trustees voted Monday for the transfer, after CMSD's audit revealed the district had budgeted $193,000 more than it spent last year in its unemployment fund balance and a nutrition program. 


TIPP was approved last year and awards bonuses to all its employees if schools' accountability grades improve year-to-year. Board of Trustees President Jason Spears said the plan is in place to not only encourage employees, but also provide a level of support. 


"We firmly believe in investing in people," Spears said. "Teachers are the first in line of us being successful at our mission. We want to make sure teachers and all staff members who play a role in child's development and success are going to feel like they are appreciated and rewarded." 


Unlike state incentives, TIPP provides a bonus for each staff and faculty member of CMSD, from classroom teachers and cafeteria workers to custodial staff. Starting in December, those staff members will see checks coming in, dependent on accountability increases. 


Mississippi rates public school districts, as well as individual campuses, on a letter-grade scale -- ranging from A to F -- based on a number of factors, mainly student performance on end-of-year benchmark exams. CMSD is currently rated a D overall. Fairview Elementary, Columbus Middle School and Joe Cook Elementary are rated D campuses, and Stokes Beard Elementary is rated an F. Three district campuses -- Sale Elementary, Franklin Elementary and Columbus High School--are all Cs. 


If a school increases from a F to a D, certified staff will receive $500, teacher assistants will receive $250 and support staff will receive $50. Incentive amounts increase gradually for each letter grade, up to $2,000 for certified faculty at A-rated campuses.  


Starting in 2019-20, the same scale for incentives will be offered, along with awards for staff at a school maintaining a grade of C or higher. If a school maintains a C, certified staff would receive $1,000, assistant teachers would receive $500 and support staff would get $100. Maintaining a B would earn certified staff $1,500, teacher assistants $750 and support staff $250 and maintaining an A would bring those totals to $2,000, $1,000 and $500, respectively.  


Come October, if each campus improves one letter grade, CMSD would shell out nearly $450,000. District Chief Financial Officer Tammie Holmes told the board Monday night, approximately $99,000 will be awarded to the district next month from the back taxes owed from the Sanderson Plumbing bankruptcy in 2013. Spears added, in addition to the $193,000, the Sanderson Plumbing check will also be added to TIPP. 


"We've really listened to what has been shared back to us from the ground level of teachers and other staff," Spears said. "We know that we need the best and brightest shaping the minds of the best and brightest." 


Spears said when he found out those funds were in the bank, he was elated to use those dollars to reward CMSD staff and faculty. 


In addition to approving the TIPP program, the board approved paying all math and science teachers currently serving within the district, as well as first-time teachers, a $3,500 bonus. Superintendent Cherie Labat said she hopes with the TIPP program and math and science incentive, CMSD will become an attractive district to those seeking employment.  


"We focus on student achievement," Labat said. "We've improved the curriculum. We've actively tried to recruit teachers. We are about eight teachers short and used a lot of substitute teachers in key areas but we are hoping with this TIPP incentive plan, we will have a teacher in every classroom by the fall." 


Labat added she's hopeful to see an increase in accountability scores this fall, but those scores are heavily reflected on one day. 


"It will not be for a lack of effort," Labat said. "I pray that we pay out all the money for the TIPP program, because our employees sure worked hard to earn it."




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