Saint Louis teachers want a raise, and they have a point
On Friday, the Post-Dispatch covered a recent Saint Louis school board meeting where over 100 teachers vociferously argued for a raise. Many have been stuck at the same place in the salary schedule for years, and the article mentions several popular, award-winning teachers who have left the district for other states or better paying schools in Saint Louis County.
The debate over how much teachers should be paid will never be settled. We can, however, talk about teacher pay in the broader context of school funding and perhaps come to agreement on how teachers should be paid, if not how much.
Let’s walk through the numbers. First, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Saint Louis spends $14,093.21 per student per year. That reflects current expenses; it does not count capital costs, debt service, or several other significant line items. DESE also reports that the Saint Louis Public School District (SLPS) has a 1:18 classroom teacher: student ratio and a 1:12 total teacher: student ratio.
That means that the average 18-student classroom brings in $253,677.78 in revenue per year. Even looking at a 12-student classroom means $169,118.52 per year. According to the Post-Dispatch, the average teacher salary is $46,163.*
Bottom line: A lot of money is failing to make it to the classroom.
How can this be? I’d have to dig deeper into the numbers for a full explanation, but even a quick glance points us in a couple of directions. In no particular order:
1. Administrative Bloat—According to DESE, SLPS has a ratio of 206 students for every administrator. That compares to 272 students per administrator in Kirkwood, 274 in Lindbergh, 277 in Rockwood, 306 in Wentzville, and 321 in Mehlville. Less money to administrators means more to teachers.
2. A poorly designed salary schedule—Take a look at SLPS’s teacher salary schedule. The big raises for teachers only come after they have earned degrees with dubious connections to actually improving student learning. A great teacher who only has a bachelor’s degree tops out at just over $56,000 per year. Removing step-and-lane pay scales and empowering school leaders to compensate teachers based on quality could ensure that top teachers stay in the classroom.
3. Pension contributions teachers won’t see—Saint Louis teachers are covered by the Public School Retirement System of the City of Saint Louis. They are required to contribute 5% of their salary every year. The district puts in an additional 16.5%. Now, if those teachers stay employed by the district until retirement, they can get a tidy pension, usually about 60% of their final salary (and they’re eligible for Social Security!). The problem? Teachers who don’t stay in SLPS for all 25 or 30 years of their career get only a fraction of that pension. Indeed, it takes 5 years to “vest.” More than 60% leave before this time, and while they can take their contributions, they sacrifice what the district has contributed. Contributing directly to a portable retirement account from day one of employment would ensure that every teacher gets his or her due.
Teachers are incredibly important, and they should be paid appropriately. Unfortunately, the structure of teacher pay in Saint Louis and across the state prevents that from happening.
*Note: When originally posted, the average teacher salary was mistakenly listed as $41,163. The error has been corrected above.