Saturday, March 29, 2008

Teacher Pay Comparisons

KH, in an earlier comment, posted a link to a table of Ohio public employee contracts that have been submitted to the Employee Relations Board. This is a goldmine of information which I've been sifting through over the past couple of days. Thanks, KH.

Although you can look up the contracts for city employees like police officers and firefighters at this site, my focus is on data about the teachers' contacts of the same 19 central Ohio school districts the Hilliard Northwest News chose for its comparison of administrative costs.

One of the things I found was that the teachers' contracts are all constructed with much the same provisions and language. This is not surprising as all the local teachers' associations are also members of the Ohio Education Association, and the OEA no doubt advises the local associations on these matters. In fact, it is the primary function of the OEA to do so.

They are also maddeningly different when you're trying to do comparisons, especially in regard to salaries. As described in earlier articles, the basic pay grid for the teachers has two dimensions: educational level (columns); and years of service(rows). But in that basic structure, there can be all kinds of variability. In fact, no two school districts do it exactly alike.

All of the pay grids have a column for teachers with a Bachelor's degree and zero years of service, so that's a good place to start. The average salary of such a teacher is $34,916 (all data for 2007-2008 school year). Hilliard teachers start out for a little more - $35,107. The highest starting salary of these 19 schools is $39,322 at Upper Arlington, and the lowest is $31,072 at Big Walnut. The median is $34,868 at Westerville, meaning nine start for more and nine start for less.

Click to Enlarge

All of the districts also have a column for a teacher with a Master's degree. I picked 10 years as the length of service to make the comparison. A Hilliard teacher would make $59,050, again a little above the average of $58,828, but this is the median (half pay more, half less). Max is again Upper Arlington at $68,810 and the min is $50,026 at Big Walnut. But notice that the range is widening. At the Bachelors level, the gap between the highest and lowest pay is $2,133. At the Masters level it has widened to $4,374.

I picked Masters + 15 additional hours and 15 years of service for the next comparison point: Hilliard = $76,238; average = $70,063; median = $70,616; max = $81,200 (UA again); min = $59,503 (Big Walnut again); range = $5,473. Hilliard has the second highest salary at this data point.

For the last data point, I picked PhD and 25 years of service. But I need to note that only two districts, Upper Arlington and Bexley, recognize a PhD on the pay grid. Seven of the districts top out at Masters+30, and another seven top out at Masters+45. One tops at Masters+20. Interestingly, Hilliard tops out at the lowest level: Masters+15.

There is also a lot of variability in the ways years of service are handled: the so-called step increases. The Hilliard grid has steps for years 0-15, then 20 and finally 23 years. Other districts have different years 'filled in' and so give step increases more frequently in some cases, and less so in others. While the effect of these differences can be analyzed - and the effects are significant - I've not attempted to do that for this article.

So when I say I've picked PhD/25 yrs for the last anchor point, it means the number I'm using for Hilliard is actually the salary for Masters+15/23yrs, because that's as high as the grid goes for Hilliard. Here are the numbers:

Hilliard: $82,695 (MA+15/23yrs); average = $79,557 (so we're still more than average); median = $80,005; max = $91,283 (UA, PhD/30yrs); min=$64,257 (Hamilton Local, MA+30/15yrs). Hilliard falls to 8th place in this category - one above the median. This is primarily because of the the Hilliard pay grid stops at MA+15 and 23 years of service. Every district that pays more at this point has a grid that recognizes educational levels of MA+45 or PhD and service steps past the 23 years where Hilliard stops.

The other significant number in the contract is the contribution the teacher makes to the cost of health insurance - one of the key sticking points in the current negotiations with our teachers.

In most cases, the teachers' contribution is expressed as a percentage of the premium that will be paid. The problem with comparing percentages is that not every district pays the same dollar amount for their premiums. So 90% of one district's premium can be less than 80% of another's if the latter district has a very high premium. This might be the case in Hilliard by the way, as the games our leaders - in both the Administration and the Union - have played with the insurance companies by changing carriers every year in search of the lowest rates has come back to bite them: No other carrier would bid on our business and our current carrier has, not surprisingly, raised their rates 30%.

Nonetheless, the numbers are interesting. In most cases, the contract language is simple - the Board pays x% of the premium and the teacher pays the rest. Some distinguish between individual and family coverage, so I'm using family coverage for the comparison.

Of course in Hilliard, the Board has in the past paid 100% of the health insurance premiums and the teachers have paid nothing. There is only one other of these 19 districts who do the same, and that's Groveport-Madison. However Groveport-Madison pays their teachers 7% to 13% less than we pay ours, with varying degrees of difference depending on education and service.

On average, the comparison districts pay 83% of the premium, leaving the teacher to pay 17%. Southwestern pays only 65%, the lowest of the group. Reynoldsburg has a structure where the teacher pays $85/mo and the Board pays the rest. Whitehall teachers pay 30% of their premium, but it is capped at $245/mo. Bexley's formula is a little more convoluted, but the general idea is that the more the increase in premiums, the higher percentage the teacher pays.

The most obvious observation is that we have been paying both above average salaries and 100% of the health insurance costs. Our community has said that needs to change - the teachers need to start contributing to health care. And the teachers have said they would. The question is now much, and who's taking the risk if the premiums go up.

So how do we solve this contract impasse with the teachers? It turns out that there are lot of options just in terms of tweaks to the salary grid. For example:
  • The Base Salary (BA with no experience) could be raised. The effect of this is to raise all salaries because they are all indexed off this number. This number is usually the one that gets changed in contract negotiations, and is the one often reported as 'the raise' - erroneously of course because you also have to take the step increases into account.
    In the just-expired contract, the Base Salary was increased 3.65% each year. The agreement signed by the OAPSE members called for a 3%/yr increase to the Base Salary, which is what I understand has been offered to the teachers as well.

    Changes to the Base Salary benefits the highest paid teachers most because their current salaries are greater than the salaries of the newer teachers, making an across-the-board percentage increase mean more in terms of dollars for the highest paid teachers.
  • The size of the step increase can also be adjusted. It is 4.15% in the current contract, and to my knowledge, there has been no discussions in regard to changing it. However, with a 3% increase to the Base Salary, maybe a reduction to the step increase is appropriate.

    This would affect the younger teacher most, because they receive step increases more often (see next point).
  • The gaps in the steps can be filled in. Right now step increases go only to teachers who have 0-15 years of service, or exactly 20 or 23 years of service. In exchange for dropping the size of the steps, we could make years 16-19 eligible. Or maybe 21 and 22. Or maybe extend the step program all the way to 25 years.

    The benefit in this case is to the most senior teachers, because they would get steps in years that were formerly skipped.
  • Add more educational levels. Why don't we currently recognize educational levels in excess of Masters+15? I suggest we add both Masters+30 and Masters + 45. This encourages the teachers to get additional education, which should benefit our kids. It also transfers some of the burden for gaining raises to the teachers themselves.

    However, this should also mean that the current Masters+15 column should be decreased somewhat, as our current Masters+15 scale compares to the Masters+30 and Masters+45 columns of other districts.

    This kind of adjustment obviously benefits the teachers with the most education.
Which one(s) should we use?

It probably depends on the demographics of the teachers (and perhaps to some degree, the demographics of the union leadership, who are also teachers and work under the same contract). If the most influential voices in the union are the union leaders and the most senior teachers (which is often the case), they would favor filling in the step schedule, and might agree to a smaller increase to the Base Salary. Of course, this hurts the young teachers who are getting step increases anyway and need the boost from the Base Salary increase.

I expect that the most targeted increase approach would be adding educational levels, like Masters+30 and Masters+45. It would affect a small fraction of the teacher population, especially since there has been no pay incentive to reach these levels beforehand. But could be made available to a teacher regardless of length of service.

There are lots of options - many more than those discussed here. The only thing we know is that the community expects the rate of salary increases to be trimmed and for the teachers to starting contributing to their healthcare cost. The teachers have agreed to do both in principle, but we're hung up on details.
Maybe looking at some of these other options will help.


  1. So in effect with step raises the staff gets over 7% in raises plus dont want to pay for medical. The admin. gets 4% and yet we are saying the kids will be affected

    Voted yes this last time for the last time. Suggest the board and admin and the staff understand what is happening in the real world

    It is the epitome of arrogance.Message to teachers
    staff, admin, board, cheap flyer
    will go out just beforenext levy
    detailing what you are doing
    Must send the message Vote no
    Open checkbook must end for raised and benefits.

  2. Paul,

    You have done some great and in depth investigation.

    I agree with your summary/conclusion: "The only thing we know is that the community expects the rate of salary increases to be trimmed and for the teachers to start contributing to their healthcare cost."

    However, I am confused by the next comment: "The teachers have agreed to do both in principle..."

    Given that the union voted overwhelmingly (96%) to reject the 3% base raises, and a small employee cost for full family health insurance, I don't sense the "agreement" from the union.

    The 3 year contract they rejected was generous by nearly any standard, and it wasn't enough to get even 5% of union members to support it.

    And at 3% base raises, plus the same generous step increases as always, with only minimal employee contributions to health insurance, this contract was not exactly a huge shift toward long-term fiscal stability.

    Do you see something that most people don't?

  3. Compared to the 2005-2007 contract, which included 3.65% annual increases to Base Pay and no contribution to health insurance costs, the teachers have stated - as I undertand it - that they could accept smaller increases in base pay and would make contributions to their health insurance costs. The argument is over the details.

    While there are items in the Board's proposal other than compensation that the teachers are concerned about, a key hang-up as I understand it is with who eats unforeseen increases in health insurance costs. The Board wants the teachers to pay a fixed percentage of the premium regardless of how large it gets (which apportions the risk in the same ratio as the payments). The teachers' union wants the Board to set a ceiling on how high the insurance payments can go - meaning the Board assumes all the risk if they go higher.

    The Board says the deal on the table is the best they can do. The teachers have rejected it. This will have to be resolved. All I'm suggesting is there are more numbers to tweak than just these two (Base Pay and insurance cost participation).

    But these other choices require the union to figure which subgroups of their membership do better in a different configuration, and which ones do worse.

    Will the union try to protect it's youngest members by changing the grid so the younger members get bigger raises early in their career, even if that choice means the more senior members get less?

    Will the union go for filling in more of the steps, which won't help the younger teachers, but will help the ones in mid-career?

    Would they accept more educational levels in the grid if it means that highly paid teachers with only Masters+15 might no longer be able to reach the top of the pay scale?

    I think it's time for the union to put a creative offer on the table that demonstrates how they want to take care of their members when the money gets tight.

    Maybe the Board should say: "You (the HEA) get an additional $x million/yr over the next three years to divvy up any way you want, understanding that you will also pay y% of the health insurance premiums. Figure out your own plan."

    That would be interesting to watch.

  4. Exactly why did the union members reject the contract? I seem to recall you saying it was more about the length of the contract - would that be because they are worried about future hikes in health insurance premiums? If so, welcome to the real world. The private sector faces this every year - the rank and file do not get to choose the provider, management does, and the worker typically pays a fixed percentage, although that fixed percentage is generally stated as an actual dollar cost. Thing is, the total cost is set by the carrier, not the Board, not the members. So the teachers want what?
    For the Board to assume all risks in increased costs? Sorry, doesn't work that way. GM did it for years until even they convinced the union that the gravy train was de-railed, and the union assumed the costs of the health plan (granted, with a huge infusion of cash from GM)
    I truly believe we are at the point where this issue is the straw that broke the camels back. We didn't pay attention to the last several contracts where this was going on and it has come to a head, possibly due to the tough economy in general. The HEA seems to want to insulate itself from the economy, but it isn't going to happen at the expense of the taxpayers. I won't debate whether the teachers are underpaid or overpaid, arguments can be made for both sides. But I will debate whether the district can afford to go on with exorbiant
    contract hikes now and in the future. They can't, especially if they want the levy to pass in November.

  5. The teachers wanted a shorter contract duration - one or two years. Why? Because if they need to make consessions in this agreement, and believe things will be better later (ie the District will have more money), they'll want to get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible.

    I think the HEA leadership might have fired up the teachers by saying things like "The Board wants us to take only 3% raises, but pay 10% of our insurance - and that's a pay cut!"

    Except that it's apples and oranges. It's 3% of their salaries and 10% of the insurance premiums. The 3% and 10% are fractions with two different denominators, and even a 5th grader knows you can't just compare the numerators if that's the case.

    So it's 3% of their salaries (avg $50K * 3% = $1,500), and that leaves out the 4% step increase built into the pay grid, which brings the average raise to more like $3,500/yr.

    To have all that eaten up in their 10% contributions to insurance premiums, those premiums would need to be $35,000 per year per teacher. Insurance is expensive, but not that expensive.

    The Board countered this messaging by the union leadership by sending out a spreadsheet directly to the teachers that showed the calculations of how much more they would get in raises, and how much the insurance contribution would cost.

    The union leadership objected and filed a complaint with the state labor regulators, not because the union leadership said the numbers the Board communicated were wrong, but because the union leadership was bypassed and not given the chance to put their own spin on the information.

    You're right, nearly all of us in the community have largely ignored this stuff in the past. That's why I say this levy is the price of our apathy.

    But the Board could be been doing better at communicating with the people of this community, at helping folks understand the mechanics of school funding, and at enlisting the community's support in getting control of growth and spending.

    They need to start now with an effective education/communication program or the levy won't stand a chance in Nov either.

  6. Paul-

    I think you make some interesting points. I appreciate your willingness to think creatively about the pay schedules for the certified staff.

    I voted against the BOE's proposal not because of salary or insurance concerns. I am well aware of the current state of the economy. I was much more concerned with the BOE's unwillingness to discuss non-financial issues. These issues would not cost the district money. We have been told that we cannot discuss issues that are current in negotiations, so I am unable to share these issues. However, these issues are FAR more important to me than salary and insurance.

    Thank you for providing a forum for communication!

  7. The attitude I've seen and heard from the school officials indicates to me that they are under the assumption that the levy failure in March was "normal" as only one levy has passed the first time on the ballot in 25 years.

    I think the attitude is that the levy will pass when the criticality is greater (Novermber of 08 or March of 09). That's the way it's always worked, and I think the school district thinks it will happen that way again. It seems they are underestimating the attitude and fortitude of the community.

    I really think the levy will fail in November and could very likely be 0-3 come March of 09. That will be a devastating blow to the district and the community.

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents...

  8. Anon:

    Can you say anything about the realm of the teachers' concerns? Is it about a change in duties for example? Or perhaps curriculum matters? I'm not asking you to betray any confidentiality rules, but if your key issues are also the key issues of the rest of the teachers, then I think the public needs to know that.

    The perception is that the impasse is all about money, and the community has shown - by the magnitude of the levy defeat - that it is willing to dig in its heels if that's the case.

    If the truth is that there is some other non-financial aspect that's hanging up the deal, that takes the discussion to a different place.

    Who do you feel is pushing this point? None of the current BOE members are educators, so I would think matters dealing with curriculum, academic freedom, textbook choices, performance measurement, assignments, school operations, etc would have to be coming from the Superintendent.

    The financial discussion puts the teachers and the community on the opposite sides of the table. If the real issue is something else, the public should know.

    There's a chance the public would be on your side.

    After all, I think that other than at contract negotiation time, many parents see themselves as partners with the teachers in a common goal - educating the kids. That's why having an objective conversation about money is so hard. Parents do it for free and I think that at some level the parents believe that the teachers have the same motivation - that teaching is a calling not a job.

    The negotiation process shatters that illusion. The work-to-the-contract behavior makes it worse.

    It's like finding out that someone you thought was a friend was really only hanging around because you bought them stuff.

    Such situations never resolve well without truthful and open communications. Unfortunately the default mode for our school leadership - on both sides of the table - is secrecy and information control. That's gotta change.

    Our BOE meets for eight minutes to rubberstamp a few routine resolutions then goes to Executive Session for much longer (you can't count the kids' program and the passing out of pins as meeting time).

    Compare that with the Olentangy BOE who posts a audio recording of their Board meetings on their website.

  9. For what it's worth, I know a Hilliard teacher for whom it is about unwillingness to lose purchasing power (i.e. raise possibly won't cover increase in health insurance payment).

  10. It is ridiculous that a teacher is told that he/she cannot discuss issues that are in negotiation. Told by whom? I can only assume by the union head. What does the union have to fear, especially since it appears to be non-compensation issues? Is the union head too arrogant to realize that the taxpayers cover his members
    salaries, that those members, in effect, work for us? Or are they just echoing the HSB position that lack of communication is acceptable? While I appreciate Anonymous' forthrightness, I certainly cannot condone secrecy and I am pretty sure that that attitude is going to contribute to the failure of the levy at least one more time, and possibly many times after that. The public deserves answers, not secrecy, and unless informed otherwise, is going to firmly believe that the real impasse lies in the benefits/salary
    issue and little else. The head of the union is not looking out for either his members or our children.

  11. I think it's pretty common that during negotiations, neither side discusses details in public. I think it stems from not wanting rumors to fly and misinformation to dominate.... however in today's "connected" society, I think it's pretty hard to pull off.

    Anway, it's not that uncommon, so I don't worry too much about that kind of communication (or lack thereof). I mean, for the most part all of the state employees records are public, so there isn't a lot of secrecy. I mean, we certainly know what every employee in Hilliard makes. I certainly don't know that about my closest friends and even family.

    I think the bigger problem is not that we don't know all of the tiny details of the negotiations, it's that what we hear from both sides is so filtered. It's a PR war and we are stuck in the middle. Neither side is as evil as the other would have us believe. I call it "posturing". And I hate it. I don't want games. I just want solutions.

    There are 3 legs to this stool: Teachers, Administration/Board, and Taxpayers. All 3 have to work together and all 3 have to make concessions (including us!). There is no miracle cure. Teachers will pay premiums, class sizes will get larger (due to reductions), taxpayers will pay more taxes, and hopefully, the administration makes some cuts as well. If all this happens, we can fix TODAY's issue... but TOMORROW's is just around the corner and solutions for those need to start now.

  12. Steven:

    Thanks for the comment. A big unknown for me and most people in the community is exactly how much the health insurance premium is expected to be. Are the teachers being asked to pay 6% of $100/mo ($6.00), or 6% of $1000/mo ($60.00)? If the proposed HEA contribution structure is 6/8/10% as is the case with the OAPSE contract, it seems like the math for even the lowest paid teacher would work out this way:

    2007 base pay: $35,107 (BA/0yrs)
    2008 base pay: $37,660 (BA/1yr)
    Gross increase: $2,553
    and $2,553 is 6% of $42,550.

    Surely the premiums aren't $42,000 per year.

    My guess is that the premiums are in the ballpark of $12,000/yr, and that this teacher's share would be about $750/yr - which can be paid with pre-tax dollars.

    In 2009, this teacher would be paid $40,400 (BA/2yrs), an increase of another $2,740. Let's say the insurance premiums go up 25%, making them $15,000 per year. The 8% share of this is $1,200/yr. However, the teacher's salary is $5,293 more than in the last year of the old contract, meaning the teacher still grosses about $4,000 more after the insurance contribution.

    While the salary numbers in this example are solid, the insurance numbers are conjecture. Real data would be helpful if you can provide it.

    I didn't miss that you used the term 'purchasing power,' so I know you're considering that some part of the raise gets eaten up with 'inflation.' From an economics standpoint, that's technically incorrect - an increase in the prices of some consumer items is not inflation.

    But I do agree that lots of things are more expensive these days, and we're all feeling the pinch. The teachers should not expect to be insulated from that any more than the rest of us.

  13. Thanks for your questions, Paul. I'm not sure I'm willing to comment too much on negotiations. People in your blog have asked why we cannot disclose our items for negotiation. From my understanding, it stems from collective bargaining laws.

    While I understand the point you are trying to make, I don't agree with your comparison of teachers and negotiations with someone being a friend just because one would buy them things. This seems too simplistic - would this be true of doctors helping patients? I believe that teaching is a calling - and parents are an important part of the partnership in their child's success in both education and life. Teaching is tough work - and becomes more challenging each year as teachers are measured by indicators over which they often have little control. (Such as unfunded mandates like NCLB.) While there was a lot of negative press about teachers working to the contract, I have not seen that happening with the majority of teachers. I speak from my experience as a teacher, as well as a parent with children who attend school in the district.

    As you have stated, negotiations are as much with the taxpayers as the BOE. Have there ever been instances of parents and/or taxpayers sitting on the negotiations team? Just curious.....

  14. Anon:

    You make a number of good points.

    I agree that teaching well is hard work. I don't think I'd have the stamina to just be in the classroom all day, much less have to prepare lesson plans, grade papers and do all the other stuff teachers do.

    I've never said I think effective teachers are paid too much - only that ineffective teachers need to be weeded out if you want me to support high pay levels for all.

    And you're right, few of us whine about how much a physician is paid. I have one kid who is a teacher, and one in med school. I want them both to be paid a ton and take care of me in my old age!

    But I think you have to agree that there's something different about our relationship with teachers versus the one with our doctors:

    After medical treatment, you get a bill and see what the doctor charges. For those fortunate to have good insurance, the doctor's charges are mostly taken care of, but you still see the numbers.

    Most of us never see what our kid's teacher gets paid. In fact, compensation rarely if ever enters the conversation. So when it does, it's a little jarring to the parents - and it feels a little like a betrayal of the partnership.

    Not rational perhaps, but emotions rarely are.

  15. First, who among you would have a job, if it were not for teachers. Would a doctor? Therefore, who should be paid more? Who ultimately saves lives? Do you disclose your salaries to teachers? Teaching is the lowest paid, most highly educated of all professions. What you neglected say in your analysis of teachers with a masters+ so many hours, is that teachers HAVE to continue studying the equivalent hours of having several doctorates to keep their licenses. Who among you has a job that requires that level of education for so little pay, including the benefits?

  16. This dialog about what teachers get paid compared to the private sector is as meaningless as discussing whether gas should be $4.00/gallon and climbing.

    Teachers should be paid enough that it encourages a sufficient quantity of motivated and capable people to be teachers. To my knowledge, we have no shortage of teachers - at least not in the suburban districts - which would suggest that this hurdle is being met.

    The customers of my business might have never known what I was paid, but they certainly knew the price of our product, and the price at which our competitors offered the same product. My salary was determined by our success in getting sufficient customers to pay our price. If they wouldn't - for whatever reason - my income would go down. Not three years from now when a union contract expires, but potentially the day after tomorrow as we scramble to figure out how to stay in business.

    And please don't whine about how much teachers have to study. My industy (computers and telecommunications) changed at a pace several times that of the education field. The skills I learned in college 30 years ago are largely useless, and I had to read and study constantly to keep up. In fact, I have fallen so far behind in the eight years since I retired that I doubt that I qualify for the role I last held. And my field is by no means unique in regard to the pace of change and the continuing education demands on its practitioners.

    Please don't diminish the value of your defined benefits retirement plan. Very few people in private industry have such a thing, will likely need to work well into their 60s, and maybe 70s to survive with dignity. Your pension and post-retirement medical coverage is an extraordinary blessing in today's world.

    I said many times that I don't have a problem with teachers being paid well - commensurate with their effectiveness. But that's not going to happen as long as teachers hide behind the shield of their labor unions. The unions force school districts to carry the duds at the expense of the stars.

    But the real problem here is one of completely botched customer relations. The expense associated with our teacher corps has been growing exponentially over the past decade or so, under the radar. Now the year-to-year increments are very large numbers, and the public doesn't understand why, especially against the backdrop of an economy in recession. You, and the school leadership, could have prevented this with a much better public communications program.

    Having not developed this communication program, your only choice now - in the few remaining days before the election - is to be empathetic to the public. The best way to have done that would have been to either forego step increases, or the 3% base increases in the contract you just negotiated.

    But you didn't. You initiated job actions, and took a threatening posture toward the people of this district. They won't forget that in November.

    You guys made it about the money, not the public.