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School Board fine-tunes a teacher compensation handbook

Questions on retention, definitions of 'leadership' remain

Feb. 12, 2014

Teacher pay was on the table again at this week's School Board meeting, as Superintendent Phil Ertl presented the district's new "Teacher Career Ladder Handbook," which puts to paper a new teacher compensation system the board has reviewed before.

Using model — not actual — numbers, the system lays out a three-step program that would have new teachers starting out at Level I, making from $40,000 to $50,000 a year, and in general, spending five years there before moving to Level II, where salaries in the model range from $40,000 to $60,000.

Level II consists of professional, fully licensed educators, and a teacher might typically spend six years at this level.

Teacher levels

Level III teachers will have shown leadership qualities in some way — including, for example, committee work, but not limited to that — and will in most cases have a master's degree, a National Board certification, or recognition as a master educator, though, Ertl said, these requirements can be waived in special cases. This level has a model pay range of $42,000 to $85,300 in the handbook.

A fourth level is reserved for employees whose salaries are above the Level II salary maximum, and who are not placed in Level III. They may move into Level III if and when appropriate.

Ertl said employees will receive at least a 2 percent raise in their initial placement, except for those on a performance plan. Many will get a larger increase, and no one will take a pay cut, he said.

Principals play a large role in a teacher's movement up the scale, and Ertl encouraged a view of them as advocates for professional advancement, as opposed to gatekeepers.

"I think we've spent a lot of time, a lot of thought and feel confident that this is a model that can help move Wauwatosa forward and meet the goals that we set forth in our compensation plan, and be able to hire an retain the best staff in southeastern Wisconsin," he said.

Challenges

The plan was challenged by parent Mary Young.

"As residents and taxpayers, my husband and I have a vested interest in the success of Tosa schools," Young said.

She said her concern was retention of experienced teachers, and presented figures taken from the Department of Public Instruction.

She cited the DPI's 2013 report on average teacher salaries in districts across the state.

"The information I found there led to a disappointing conclusion," she said. "Tosa doesn't compare well to area districts either in salary or the ability to retain experienced teachers."

The average Tosa educator has 10.75 years of experience, she said. Elmbrook and Franklin had averages of 15 years, and Menomonee Falls, 16, she said.

The average salary in Tosa is slightly above $53,000, while in the other districts the pay averages about $10,000 more, Young said.

Ertl said, in an interview later, that Wauwatosa's starting pay and top pay were higher than average, and that the new compensation plan is designed to attract and retain high quality teachers.

A decade ago

Wauwatosa stacked up better when Young looked at figures from a decade ago. Then, the average years of experience was more than 14 years, she said, about the same as comparable districts. Pay was lower than other districts, but the difference was less than it is today, she said.

"I don't see how the proposed compensation package will address this problem," she said.

She said that the package "leans to subjective evaluations, unclear definitions of leadership, changing expectations and open negotiations at all levels and competencies," Young said.

Teacher vs. teacher

The new system also raised questions for Jeff Hansher, an elementary school teacher who has been president of the Wauwatosa Educators Association.

"Over the last several years, the district has made an investment in collaboration in elementary school, middle school and high school called Teachers Working Together as one unit to help children," he said.

He said collaborative teaching makes it hard to identify who is responsible for student achievement in various areas.

He said the advancement of a teacher under those circumstances is highly subjective, and if one teacher advances, but the other doesn't, it could create bad feelings.

"What do you think's going to happen to that other teacher, who's working just as hard...what do think the relationship is going to be between those educators?"

Looking ahead

Ertl said he hoped for board approval of the plan at the next meeting.

But board members had questions.

"I would like to hear more about how the plan works to retain (teachers)," board member Sharon Muehlfeld said. "I heard some of that this evening, but I would like more information."

Teacher Amy Witteman volunteered a response.

She said she was one notch down from the top of the current pay scale, and said she was seven or eight years from what would be an early retirement.

"So when I look at where I'm going on the present pay scale, I'm going nowhere. On the new pay scale, there's a lot of room for me to grow there before I retire. I see that as a great thing for me," she said.

In addition to Muehlfeld's question, School Board President Michael Meier asked Ertl to present a broad outline of the values of leadership a teacher should show to advance.

Meier asked him to give a short presentation before the vote on the pay plan at the next meeting, Feb. 24.

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