By ASHLEY RHODEBECK - arhodebeck@shawmedia.com

Decades-old system structures teacher salaries; D-304 may deviate from it

Assertions that teachers are overpaid and under-worked may make educators sensitive when focus turns to their salaries, Batavia Education Association President Tony Malay said.

But discussions about public teacher salaries are unavoidable, particularly when school districts are negotiating new contracts.

In this area, St. Charles School District 303 is next on the bargaining docket because its two-year agreement expires this academic year. Talks should begin soon, district officials said.

It comes on the heels of contract talks in Geneva School District 304, where emotions ran high and teachers threatened to strike. At issue was the school board’s offer of a hard salary freeze the first year. While the teachers had support, many taxpayers urged the school board to hold firm, citing declining home values and increasing taxes.

The ratified contract included pay freezes with exceptions and the prospect that the traditional way of determining teacher salaries may change.

Whether Geneva is on the brink of a widespread trend regarding teacher compensation is unknown.

“We wouldn’t want to change something that’s not broken,” Malay said.

A traditional system

Public school districts here use a salary schedule – a matrix that rewards educators for teaching experience and additional education – to determine what teachers will make.

The theory is that more experience and education make teachers better, District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann said.

“In some respects, it’s designed for pay for performance,” he said.

Salary schedules date to the mid-1900s, Schlomann said, and they are universal throughout the country.

District 304, however, is expected to give its salary schedule a second look.

The contract ratified in November included a letter of understanding that establishes a joint salary schedule study group. This group of teachers and administrators will address future teacher compensation. Geneva school board President Mark Grosso said the group has yet to meet.

Greg Romaneck, the chief of staff for Batavia School District 101, said a minority of school districts have begun talking about moving away from the salary schedule. As education undergoes reforms in areas such as tenure and compensation, he said he believes in the next three to five years, more contracts could include nontraditional salary schedules. But he doesn’t think there would be a groundswell of change.

It’s difficult to predict why a district may stray from a salary schedule, Romaneck said. Every district has its own culture, and fluctuation in teacher demographics could make issues, such as retirement, important in one year but less important in another.

“It’s all very situational,” Romaneck said.

He said moving away from the traditional system would require mutual trust and thoughtfulness to have a lasting effect.

“Change is always a process that is going to have its difficulties,” he said.

No such discussions are happening in Batavia, Malay said.

“We feel the current system is adequate, as it has produced excellent results,” he said, noting test scores.

The existing system rewards experience and professional development – qualities that are vital in education, Malay said.

Regarding merit pay, he said, “we have yet to see a system that’s doable that would actually be equitable but, more importantly, improve the quality of education we offer for kids.”

What Illinois teachers make

At minimum, a full-time teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no public school teaching experience must receive at least a $10,000 salary, according to state law.

In reality, $25,470 is the lowest a beginning teacher in Illinois makes, according to the 2011-12 Illinois Teacher Salary Study.

But beginning teachers won’t find that low of a salary here. As of the 2011-12 study, salary schedules started at $36,650 in Kaneland School District 302; $39,651 in Geneva School District 304; $40,905 in Batavia School District 101; and $42,250 in St. Charles School District 303.

These salaries are for the regular school year for regular teaching duties, the report noted. While they include tax-sheltered retirement contributions, they do not include additional pay for extra duties, extended school year employment or longevity service that is reported as a separate data item, according to the study.

The most an Illinois public school teacher could earn in 2011-12 was $137,037 – a salary Oak Park-River Forest School District 200 offered its most experienced and educated teachers. The salary schedules here stopped at $105,934 in District 101; $99,069 in District 304; $94,501 in District 303; and $89,287 in District 302, according to the study.

In northeastern Illinois, the study reported, the median beginning salary was $40,009, and the median highest salary was $89,617.

During Geneva’s negotiations, teachers union President Carol Young said teachers were trying to maintain the quality of the district and its ability to attract and keep good teachers, which she said it cannot do if the starting salary is less than what is offered in neighboring districts.

Administrators for Batavia and St. Charles said there’s truth to that.

“In the past, we have lost teachers to other districts who paid more,” Schlomann said.

“If you want to maintain really good people, you have to have at least a competitive salary structure,” Romaneck said.

Other factors – including the quality of a district or individual school and whether employees feel supported and heard – are just as important, Romaneck said.

“That is why people stay in places,” he said.

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