Alternative teacher pay plans returning to Iowa

Randy Richardson, a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, explains how an alternative to the traditional salary schedule could affect teachers across Iowa. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Teachers in Iowa and across the country are typically paid based upon a negotiated salary schedule. This schedule includes a “base salary” for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no previous teaching experience. In addition, the salary schedule includes vertical “steps” that increase pay each year (up to a maximum number of years) as teachers accrue more experience, and horizontal steps that allow teachers to earn more pay based upon getting additional education. These horizontal steps usually include additional pay for academic credit hours beyond a bachelor’s degree and another bump with the earning of advanced degrees (masters and PhD).

In Iowa, teachers usually entered into negotiations every year with the school district to arrive at a new collective bargaining agreement. This agreement included any increases to the base pay and any structural changes to the salary scheduled itself (adding steps or lanes, for instance). Unfortunately for Iowa teachers, this practice is coming to a screeching halt due to significant changes to our collective bargaining law.

Under the new law teachers can only bargain changes to the base salary they receive. The salary schedule itself is now under the complete control of the school district.

Since this law went into effect, we have already seen individuals and groups float some new ideas about how teachers should be paid. Both the School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) and the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) featured sessions at recent conferences on alternatives to Iowa’s current teacher compensation system. One of the big proponents of this change is the superintendent of the Linn-Mar Community School District, Quintin Shepherd. In fact, Shepherd and Jim Green, Board President of Grant Wood Area Education Agency, will be presenting a session entitled “Eliminate the Salary Schedule … Seriously?!” at the November IASB Conference.

Since Shepherd has been promoting this “new idea,” I thought it might be a good idea to look at the plan and explain how it could affect teachers across the state. First, a little background.

Shepherd came to Linn-Mar after serving as the Superintendent of the Skokie School District 69 in Illinois. Skokie is an elementary-only district in northern Cook County, IL with an enrollment of around 1,800 students. Shepherd became the Superintendent in Skokie in 2010. When he arrived he discovered that the school district was in bad financial condition. Shepherd decided that he needed to implement an intervention over the following 18 months to put the struggling district in better financial health.

Shepherd then sat down with the local teacher’s union affiliate and negotiated what became known as his “Key” plan. Up until this time the Skokie teachers had been paid on a salary schedule. The “Key” plan would replace this system with one where teacher pay was tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). A teacher’s salary would then be determined in a range of 85 to 100 percent of the CPI based upon the teacher’s educational level. Vertical step increases were eliminated and horizontal lane advancement was replaced with one-time stipends.

In an article in the Illinois Association of School Business Officials Spring 2014 newsletter, Shepherd explained that the original “key” used in Skokie gave teachers with an MA+12 (a master’s degree with 12 additional hours of graduate work) an increase equal to the full CPI while teachers with a BA only received an increase equal to 85 percent of the CPI. The article also mentioned that the new pay system included a floor increase of 1.5 percent and a maximum increase of 4.5 percent for teachers. The negotiations over this pay plan also included a reduction in health insurance benefits. Shepherd noted in the article that the union agreed to increase contributions toward health insurance premiums by 5 percent while the district saw a reduction in their contribution of 15 percent. Although no details were mentioned, the savings were accomplished partly through changes in plan design.

So why would the local union agree to this? First, it appears that the district was experiencing some level of financial difficulties. When this occurs it isn’t unheard of for the local union to take a smaller increase to help the district back to financial health. However, it should also be noted that the salaries in 2010 for Skokie staff were quite high in comparison to Iowa salaries. Seven teachers had salaries of more than $100,000 and several more had salaries in excess of $90,000. Since teachers at the high end of the pay scale were still likely to see larger salary increases, there may have been some desire to protect their jobs and maintain decent salaries.

Will we actually see this in Iowa? At first glance this plan seems to provide lower salary increases to new teachers. Since many Iowa schools have trouble hiring and retaining new teachers, this idea would seem to be counterproductive. It’s also important to keep in mind that this plan was implemented at a time when the district was experiencing financial problems and at a time of low inflation. In a district that has plenty of money and spending authority, there would be little incentive to make a change.

Even if a school would implement this plan, they would need to remember that inflation won’t remain below 2 percent. It wasn’t that long ago that the United States was experiencing double-digit inflation. How will that work for teachers when their raise is capped at 4 percent and the CPI shows the cost of living going up by 12 percent? As recently as 1980 the US had an annualized cost of living increase of 12.52 percent.

The sad thing about this plan is that it could easily be implemented in Iowa. The new bargaining law took away the rights of teachers to bargain the salary schedule that determines their pay. Yes, committees have been formed to develop handbooks, but nothing in the law guarantees the existence of these committees or the handbooks they write.

This is a bad plan that isn’t needed in our state. The existing salary schedules give administrators plenty of flexibility and predictability, making a change unnecessary. Unfortunately, those of us who have been around for a while know there will be someone out there willing to make a change just because they can.

Tags: Education, Labor

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