Want to Value Teachers? Eliminate Salary Schedules
It looks like teachers in Marshfield are finally getting a raise.
Teachers are paid on what is known as a salary schedule, which maps out exactly how much a teacher will make for their entire career based on how many years of experience they have, with additional adjustments made for teachers with advanced degrees. When finances are tight, however, district officials will often do one of two things: sometimes they decline to adjust the schedule for inflation, and in leaner years they may “freeze” teachers at their current salaries. According to the Springfield News-Leader, salaries for Marshfield teachers were frozen for four years, and teachers received just a one percent raise in two other years.
Some teachers feel a sense of entitlement regarding pay raises. As a former public school teacher, I know this from experience. You would feel entitled to a raise too if your employer presented you with a predetermined salary structure. You consider yourself bound by the salary schedule, but you consider the district bound by it as well. What good is an agreement that only one side must abide by?
Over the years, I have analyzed hundreds of salary schedules. While conducting my research, I found one school district that did not have a salary schedule. When I spoke with an administrator there, I asked him why not. He said the schedule was like a promise to teachers. They expected to receive those raises. When they did not, they felt that something had been taken away from them. It felt like a slap in the face.
When workers in any field believe they are not valued, morale drops, productivity may decrease, and employees might look for jobs elsewhere. We certainly don’t want low morale among our teachers.
In Marshfield, with the foundation formula fully funded for the first time since its inception, the district will largely make up the “missed” pay increases. This will help ameliorate any negative sentiments from the years when their salaries were frozen. It will, however, do little to change expectations among teachers.
Currently, salary schedules dominate school district budgets. They tell the financial office how much money is available to hire new teachers or to purchase new resources. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that approximately 80 percent of a district’s operating expenses go toward salaries and benefits. With salary schedules, school boards and administrators cannot control these expenses without “taking away” raises from teachers. That is a problem.
The school district without a salary schedule has a different model, one in line with sound financial management. It gives raises based on how much money is left in the budget, which helps school officials effectively manage their budget.
Valuing teachers and wanting to give pay raises is a good thing. So are pay systems that reduce strife between teachers and administrators, while also promoting more responsible governance. As Marshfield and other school districts look for ways to reward teachers for their service, they should examine how they pay teachers.