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Wauwatosa school chief sees new pay plan as giving teachers a reason to stay

Feb. 21, 2014

Wauwatosa Public Schools Superintendent Phil Ertl this week defended the district's new teacher compensation structure in the face of criticism levied at a School Board meeting earlier this month that it doesn't do enough to retain experienced teachers.

A parent, using Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction figures, pointed out that Wauwatosa educators, on average, have fewer years of experience and make less money than teachers in the Elmbrook, Franklin and Menomonee Falls school districts.

Coming to a "disappointing conclusion," the parent said, "Tosa doesn't compare well to area districts either in salary or the ability to retain experienced teachers."

The School Board has asked Ertl for more information about how the plan works to retain teachers, in addition to a question about how teachers show the leadership required to advance along the scale.

The annual report

The district writes an annual report about teacher retention, and, in its most recent report, in July, the percentage of teachers who stayed with the district was measured at 93 percent, which was seen as normal. But half of the losses — almost 11 teachers of the 16 who departed, on a full-time-equivalent basis — were from Wauwatosa East High School. A high departure rate — about two-thirds of the resignations — was noted among teachers with seven to nine years of experience, a point at which, in the district's former pay scale, compensation plateaued.

The new pay structure, with teachers moving up a scale through three basic levels, based on experience and performance, strives to give teachers in those years a reason to stay.

Time is just part of it

Ertl said that years of teaching experience is not necessarily a measure of retention. A better measure would be years spent in the district. And even that doesn't measure student performance.

"I think her numbers were accurate off of the DPI," Ertl said of the figures presented. But, he said, "there was no discussion of performance and student achievement."

As an example, he cited data that said the average years of service to the state's 10 highest performing school districts is 11.5 years. The same figure for the state's lowest performing school districts is actually higher, at 12.3 years. In Wauwatosa, the average years of service is close to 11, he said.

"If you take the school report cards, look at the top 10 and the bottom 10, there's no relationship of years of service to a school and student achievement," he said.

Data may not help

"There's tons of data," Ertl said. "I mean, I could throw data at everybody and make every argument seem like a winner. For me, there's more to retention than just what somebody's paid."

While average pay in some other districts may be higher, Ertl said that starting pay and top pay in the Wauwatosa district are higher than average among 29 area districts, and the new compensation plan provides a path from one end to the other.

Not created equal

Retention by itself is not the goal, Ertl said.

"All teachers are not created equal," he said.

"We want to retain our best teachers, but we want to make sure that we're evaluating our teachers well and making sure that we're not retaining the people who shouldn't be retained. That's part of the whole concept with the compensation model. We want to make sure that the best people are looking to Wauwatosa to come and work, and once we get them here, we're compensating people in a way that makes them want to stay here."

The new model

Teacher compensation in the Tosa district has — in the wake of Act 10, passed in 2011 — spent a couple of years in a transitional limbo. In the 2012-13 school year, teachers were given an average raise of 2 percent, skewed toward the lower end of the scale, so that younger teachers with less experience got a higher percentage raise than teachers with more experience.

Many teachers objected to this, and for this year, teachers were given a 2 percent raise across the board. The new compensation model is an attempt to lay out a career arc for teachers to strive for, so they can see how they might grow in the profession, and within the district.

Ertl said the new plan, created by a committee that includes teachers — "they had more than input, they were critical in the development of this" — will start teachers with a raise of at least 2 percent, except for those on performance plans.

No one will see a drop in pay.

The plan lays out three levels, with a pay range within each, that rewards experience, professional certification, and a yet-to-be-defined "leadership" component, which is likely to be broader than, for example, committee leadership.

The subjective factor

Not everything in the plan is measurable by data, he said. And not everyone will move through the scale at the same pace.

"Especially in a field that's so human resource driven, it's impossible to make everything completely objective," he said. "There's always going to be the human component. There's always going to be a subjective nature, and if we don't recognize it, we're fools.

"To try to pretend that ... everybody's created equal and everybody's the same level of expertise and performance, it's just not real."

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