Monday, August 24, 2009


The subject of teacher salaries is getting a lot of attention in the news these days. Reporters are writing stories that talk about not only the base pay increases that are negotiated into the union contracts for teachers, but also the 'step increases' that often make up half or more of the total year-to-year compensation increase teachers realize. This is a crucial piece of information - for a long time, it was only the base pay increased that was discussed.

For example, the prior contract with the Hilliard Education Association, the union representing our teachers and other certified staff, called for 3.65% annual increases in the base pay over the three years of the contact. In the current contract, that increase was dropped to 3%*.

However, in both contracts, 65% of the teachers will also receive 4.15% step increases. Therefore in the prior contract, most teachers received an annual raise of 7.95%, and under the new contract receive 7.27%.

This is neither good nor bad. This pay structure is the result of years of contract negotiations, performed in the context of a pretty good economic climate in America.

But things have changed. America has pretty much maxed its credit cards in all respects, and now the hard reality is that, as a good friend said to me yesterday, everyone and every organization needs to figure out how to live within its means.

At issue now is sustainability: how do we adjust all the many knobs available so that over the long term, spending lines up with resources? Listen to this podcast from The Dispatch on the subject, and note how many times the term "sustainability" comes up.

As my friend said, we've done all the easy adjustments, rearranging bus routes, redeploying staff, buying supplies in bulk, etc. It leaves us with the big issue - the core one - the one in which we spend 88% (and growing) of our operations budget: Compensation and benefits.

This issue is kryptonite. Just look at the online comments attached to this recent story in The Dispatch. At last count, there were 569 comments - most of which take on the tone of the recent town meetings about universal healthcare.

The sad state of affairs in America is that we are more than willing to engage in high-decibel arguments about matters in which we have little understanding. Free speech is not the same thing as intelligent speech. There are opinions based on truth, understanding and compassion, and opinions based on ignorance and selfishness. One takes a lot of study and thought, the other is spewn into the air like toxic waste. My mind is drawn to one of my all-time favorite Monty Python skits: Argument Clinic.

My whole reason for creating is to help lift the level of knowledge of school funding among the people of our community so that we can have one of those reasoned and empathetic debates about how teachers should be compensated. I have found that neither the public nor the teachers - nor often the School Board - really understand how school funding works.

But some have been listening, and share this goal. A few months ago, was formed with one its primary mission being to educate the public on school economics so that a meaningful dialog can take place. Similar groups are emerging in other central Ohio communities as well.

If you agree with us - please tell your friends about

* the teachers also agreed to increase the portion of health insurance premiums they pay from 0% to 10%, in three annual steps - 6% in 2008, 8% in 2009 and 10% in 2010.