The Wauwatosa School Board approved a new teacher compensation plan that will mean a 4.9 percent aggregate increase in teacher pay beginning in the fall and sets starting pay at $40,000 for most new teachers, with a district maximum of $80,700.
Sharp questioning from teachers who attended the School Board meeting this week focused on initial placement in the plan and expressed concerns about the evaluation process by which teachers will advance through a career.
Three levels of teachers are defined in the new plan. Level 1 would include new teachers who have an initial educator's license, with a pay range of $40,000 to $50,000, and where they would likely remain for five years. Level 2 increases the range to a top pay of $60,00 and is the standard placement for teachers with a professional educator's license "who continue to meet performance expectations from year to year," according to the compensation handbook.
At Level 3, the top pay increases to the identified maximum, $80,700, and is a placement for teachers who show "distinguished teaching" and "authentic leadership."
Where they start on the scale was the concern of several teachers who spoke at the meeting.
"I'd like to just express some concerns about the initial placement, that some of us have not been assessed or observed for nearly a year and a half to two years, and so I'm not really sure how they're going to use information they don't have to put us in a level based on what they're seeing us produce," said music teacher Suzanne Graber.
"Do previous evaluations inform placement — Absolutely," said Superintendent Phillip Ertl. But he said that the most recent evaluation would not be the sole determining factor and that an evaluation discussion would be held with the school principal before placement.
Graber also expressed confusion about the role years of service will play in initial placement, as a draft of the document says it will be a factor, but, she said, in his presentation to the board, Ertl said placement would be determined by performance assessments. And like others, she expressed concern about the prominent role played by principals in evaluations.
Especially in the case of a new principal, Graber said, that person may know who she is, but might not have had time to observe her in the classroom.
Elementary school teacher Jeff Hansher, who is president of the Wauwatosa Education Association, also expressed concern about the role of principals.
Can it be fair?
Hansher said he was worried about fairness. He referred to a survey of teachers that revealed a lack of confidence in the evaluation process and expressed concern about the subjectivity inherent in it.
"Especially in the elementary school, where our curriculum is changing constantly, being evaluated in our teaching techniques is not fair," he said.
"I would want my experience of all the years that I've taught here to be included when we start doing this, when we start placing people. Just going back to that survey, there's a real concern among teachers that they are not going to be fairly evaluated."
Favoritism, fluctuating understandings of "leadership" and other subjective factors leave room for unfair evaluations, he said.
Ertl has asserted that teachers played a major role in the crafting of the new plan. He said there was an open invitation to join the committee, and then committee members were selected from that group.
And to claims by teachers that communication about the plan was poor, Ertl said, "We communicated about this plan more than we've communicated about anything in the last nine years. We've had more opportunity for feedback, we've begged for comment, we've gone round and round.
"If they don't know about it, they haven't looked for it."
Still, doubts about the committee lingered. "I know that there were people invited in the committee, but then were no longer invited, so I'm not quite sure why that was," said West High School math teacher Cathy Razner.
Where does Tosa stand?
In addition, more general criticism surfaced.
Parent Scott Krueger said his family "moved here on the reputation about eight years ago of the Wauwatosa Public Schools. My wife is a teacher, and I'm a teacher, and we looked extensively at where we would want to live based solely on the school system. I'm sad to say that we have recently, over the last couple of months, but certainly it has ramped up very recently, (decided that) the reason we would leave Wauwatosa is also because of the school district."
Both he and his wife are teachers in other districts.
"What we know, or certainly has been out there, is that Tosa teachers, just to begin with, are underpaid compared to their colleagues in the surrounding area," Krueger said. "That has led to a widespread bad reputation in the profession, and at my school alone, Tosa has been mentioned as a place to steer clear of several times this year." He said it was thought of as a place of bad morale.
A ringing endorsement
School board member Phil Kroner seemed to have little patience for this.
Kroner, noting that he often spoke critically of big initiatives in the district, said he appreciated the deliberate pace of the development of the compensation plan and said he would be a strong supporter of the new plan.
"I have a feeling that this is going to make Wauwatosa a destination district, and getting up there and saying negative things about the reputation of Wauwatosa, how (true) you think they are, I don't think is helpful in the least," he said. "I think the board in general, if they approve this, is showing how much they stand behind the teachers. There's going to be a 4.9 percent aggregate wage increase in the district" contributing to stability.
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