Pattonville’s Poorly Designed Pay Scale
In education, retention of teachers is a persistent problem. Richard Ingersoll, of the University of Pennsylvania, estimates that 46 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Those exiting the field cite inadequate salaries among the chief concerns. This has led many to conclude that teachers are underpaid. Indeed, the fact that teachers are underpaid is so often stated that it has become almost a mainstay in the American psyche. I don’t know if teachers are poorly paid, but they are certainly paid poorly. That is, they are paid by a poorly designed compensation system.
Take, for example, the salary schedule for the Pattonville School District in Saint Louis County. A teacher with a master’s degree starts at $42,070. Over the next 10 years, the teacher’s salary will increase by slightly more than 25 percent. This is a modest gain of nearly 2.5 percent a year. From the 11th to the 20th year, however, the teacher will see a dramatic pay increase of 48 percent — from $53,610 to $79,360. This tremendous jump occurs primarily over a two-year period between the teacher’s 16th and 18th years. I doubt a teacher improves so much between his 17th and 18th year to deserve a $10,000, or 14 percent, pay raise.
What explains the tremendous spike in teachers’ salaries toward the end of their careers? One simply does not arrive at a salary schedule of this sort through logic or sound accounting principles. More likely, unions negotiated this schedule in an attempt to get the best retirement benefits for their members. Pattonville is part of the Public School Retirement System of Missouri, which bases teachers’ retirements on their last three years of service, not on their contributions over the life of their career.
Pattonville’s pay schedule is poorly designed if the district wants to recruit and retain young teachers. However, it is expertly designed for those wishing to game the retirement system.