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Hickman Mills school district will soon have the highest teacher salaries in the Kansas City area

Four people stand in front of a yellow wall with a picture of a graduating student
Savannah Hawley-Bates
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KCUR 89.3
Superintendent Yaw Obeng (left); Jessica Swete, a third grade teacher and president of the HMNEA; Gabriel Livingston, a third grade teacher and secretary of the Hickman Mills teachers union; and Theresa Huke-Gaa an eighth grade math teacher and HMNEA second vice president, pose for a picture after the Hickman Mills School District voted to raise teacher pay by nearly 25%.

The raises, paid for by a tax levy approved in August, will take the district from the lowest salaries in the metropolitan area to the highest.

The Hickman Mills School District in south Kansas City will soon rank highest in the Kansas City, Missouri, area for teacher pay. At a meeting Thursday night, the school board voted unanimously to approve an increased teacher salary schedule.

First-year teachers in the district currently make a minimum of $38,000 — the lowest teacher salary in the metropolitan area. With the raise, first-year teachers will make a minimum of $46,500 and a maximum of $95,107 starting in the 2023-2024 school year — an average increase of 24.6% for each teacher in the district.

Byron Townsend, a director on the school board, was on the board when Hickman Mills reworked salaries nearly a decade ago — and lowered them. At the meeting, he said the raise will finally make things right.

“You get what you pay for. We were paying at the bottom and sometimes that’s what we got,” Townsend said. “Our students deserve more. And our community also agreed that our students deserve more.”

While school districts get most of their funding from the state and federal government, property taxes make up a large portion of the funding and are the only part districts can control.

In the August primary, voters in the Hickman Mills School District overwhelmingly approved a $1.35 tax levy increase to pay for the higher teacher salaries. That increase was officially approved by the school board on Thursday night.

The next highest-paying school district in the metropolitan area, Kansas City Public Schools, pays $43,100 to first-year teachers. The Center School District pays the least — $38,681 for first-year teachers. The Lee's Summit School District will now be second in the area for top salary — nearly $8,000 less than Hickman Mills' new top salary.

Missouri ranks last in the nation for average starting teacher salaries, at just over $33,000.

A salary scale with current teacher pay in white columns and new teacher pay in green.
Hickman Mills School District
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With the newly-approved raise in teacher pay, Hickman Mills will be the highest paying school district in the Kansas City, Missouri, area.

Jessica Swete, a third grade teacher at Ervin Elementary School and president of the Hickman Mills teachers union (HMNEA), has been with the district for five years. The HMNEA negotiated the pay rates with the board and helped pass the tax levy, going door to door before the August vote.

“We were a place people had to work, not a place people wanted to work. I think this is the first step in order to get other people to even give us a look,” Swete said. “I know it's keeping me here, it's keeping a lot of my fellow colleagues here. We're just excited to keep fighting and to keep advocating for our teachers because our students deserve it.”

DaRon McGee, president of the district’s school board, said at the meeting that the vote was "crucial in showing that the community wants to support our teachers and our schools. (Our pay was) so low and it affected our retention and it affected really making Hickman Mills your first choice to make a career. I think this step clearly shows that we want people to make a career here.”

The Hickman Mills district is one of six in Missouri without accreditation. It was provisionally accredited in 2014 but is still seeking full accreditation.

District Superintendent Yaw Obeng said the pay bump will help attract and keep teachers in the district and raise its overall performance. He said the previous pay scale was disrespectful to teachers and the raise would help improve the district’s culture.

“It's a win for our teachers, a win for our students. It's a win for our community,” Obeng said. “I think now it allows us to take the next steps to ensure that the culture is right in terms of instruction and development and continuing that pathway for full accreditation.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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