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Districts changing teacher pay formulas with new evaluation systems

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Edgar Mendez/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 18, 2014

The goal in Wauwatosa was to better attract and retain top-flight educators; the method was to change the way teachers are compensated.

A new compensation model, approved in February, calls for teachers to earn anywhere between $40,000 and $80,700 a year, based largely on their performance.

But teachers had concerns: Would principals alone determine the initial salary they'd start at in the new model? Did years of service matter at all anymore? Or was everything based on performance evaluations?

Those concerns still linger as Wauwatosa and other Wisconsin districts roll out new teacher compensation models this fall, thrusting the issue of teacher pay back in the spotlight.

The new compensation models are a result of Act 10, the legislation passed three years ago that limited collective bargaining and allowed districts to untether themselves from salary schedules in union contracts that called for pay increases based solely on years spent teaching and on higher-education credits.

Some districts, such as Hartland-Lakeside and Cedarburg, were early adopters of new performance-based models resembling what people often see in the private sector.

But many more districts are debuting new models this year. The timing coincides with a new statewide educator evaluation system rolling out this year.

Eventually, those evaluations-which will take into account student outcomes-might further influence how teachers are paid in the new and more subjective compensation models.

"This is seen as something that will succeed or fail on evaluations," Wauwatosa School Board member Anne Fee said in February.

Some of the latest developments involving teacher pay include:

-- New emphasis on leadership roles. In the Oak Creek-Franklin School District, the compensation model will take into account teacher evaluations but also measures of instructional effectiveness, professionalism and leadership as evaluated by the principal, said Troy Hamblin, personnel director.

-- Larger pay increases for less-experienced teachers. In Whitefish Bay, newer teachers will receive larger pay increases in an effort to flatten the pay scale. The idea was to create a more even playing field and then, over time, raise the floor of the salary structure. The model will still offer more pay to teachers who earn a master's degree-as long as it was approved first by the district-and for teaching experience, though it's not clear how much.

-- Compensation tied to professional development: teaching licenses, advanced degrees in content areas taught, foreign language proficiency. At Milwaukee Public Schools, teachers who earn an additional certification or license in a high-need area such as bilingual or special needs education will be paid $2,000 more annually as part of a new plan in the fall.

-- Incentive pay and bonuses are also part of the new landscape for teachers. While not part of the compensation packages, some districts are offering signing bonuses to attract teachers from other districts or offering to pay their resignation fees. Resignation fees for teachers who leave their positions midyear have been increasing since Act 10.

Why are pay scales an issue now?

Under Act 10, unions can negotiate with districts only on base wages up to the rate of inflation. The rest of a teacher's salary, called supplemental wages, is what the district has more freedom to adjust unilaterally in the new compensation models.

While Act 10 gives districts the freedom to decide compensation models without having to negotiate with unions, districts with the best working relationships with teachers have involved educators in the design process.

One key issue for teachers is that many felt their pay was never that high to begin with. For years, unions generally negotiated more generous health and retirement benefits in exchange for pay raises. Then, Act 10 required teachers to pay more for their benefits and limited collective bargaining, effectively reducing their take-home pay.

According to a new report from the Center for American Progress, Wisconsin teachers with 10 years of experience had an average salary of $43,900, slightly less than the U.S. average for a midcareer public school teacher.

And that was using data collected before implementation of Act 10.

That's not enough to raise a family for many young teachers, said Kim Kohlhaas, president of the Wisconsin affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers union.

"Teaching has become a career that is not sustainable for somebody who has high student loan debt or is supporting their family," Kohlhaas said.

With the end of collective bargaining agreements that generally made it financially advantageous to stay with a district until retirement, compensation models tied to factors other than tenure are in place.

That has made it less appealing for teachers, now taking home less money, to stay in a single district for the long term, said Bob Butler, associate executive director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

In turn, that's prompted school districts to use cash saved under Act 10 to lure staff from other districts.

A $3,000 to $4,000 bump up in pay is now often incentive enough for a teacher to jump to a new district, Butler said.

"It's like the world of baseball economics hitting public schools," Butler said.

In Menasha, the school district lost some bilingual education teachers to the Green Bay Area School District. In response, Menasha is crafting a plan to offer stipends to bilingual teachers as well as reimburse current teachers who are bilingual for the cost of obtaining bilingual certification. The price tag of the plan is projected to be $12,000 a year.

David Parr, president of the Janesville Educational Association union, said intradistrict recruiting of teachers is becoming more common, a result of Act 10.

"Before Act 10, the emphasis of compensation was that you were rewarded for staying in the district," Parr said. With no incentive anymore to stay, teachers are jumping after the money.

Last year in Janesville, teachers protested a base salary increase of only 0.75 percent, the rate of inflation. Locked into essentially the same wage, more teachers have left. Teacher turnover in Janesville was 12 percent last year, Parr said.

Some districts have stuck to compensation models that look pretty close to the ones that existed before Act 10. Milwaukee Public Schools is one of them, but in many other districts the debate is over how to compensate teachers.

In Wauwatosa, the debate was sharp.

"It is subjective and it's merit pay," Scott Krieger, a Greenfield High School teacher and Wauwatosa parent, told the School Board at a February meeting. "Research is definitive that merit pay does not work in education."

While Wauwatosa Superintendent Phil Ertl contends the plan in place for Wauwatosa is competitive, Krieger disagrees.

"It's not competitive with a Greendale or a South Milwaukee," he said that night, questioning whether the compensation plan had support from teachers.

"And I am not going to send my daughter to a school with a teacher who feels underpaid, undervalued and underrespected via a compensation system."

Teachers should have no problem with trained administrators evaluating them, Ertl said.

"You can call it subjectivity if you want, but I call it professional judgment."



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