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Wauwatosa panel recommends newer teachers continue to get higher raises

Dec. 12, 2012

A Wauwatosa School Board committee has recommended a continued compression of the pay scale for teachers, meaning newer teachers will get higher raises than more experienced teachers in coming years, just as they did in the current school year.

"We're at risk of losing our teachers at the bottom," said Daniel Chanen, director of human resources, at the School Board meeting Monday night.

The district's pay increase distribution this year awarded a 3.75 percent increase to teachers at the bottom of the pay scale - amounting to a $1,369 increase - ranging down to a 0.874 percent raise for those at the top, a $587 increase.

In a speech before the board in September, Jeffrey Hansher, president of the Wauwatosa Educators Association, said, "Whether you believe it or not, you're sending a message, 'I'm not valued as much.' Whether you want to convey that to me and over a hundred other staff members, that is what you're saying."

But school administration and compensation committee members recommend following that model for the foreseeable future.

"Ultimately, raising starting salaries and, by extension, the salaries of teachers being compensated at the low and middle end of our salary structure will serve to both attract teachers and create the possibility of providing overall higher career earnings for individual teachers," stated a memo Chanen provided to the board.

In response to questions, Chanen said he could not predict when pay scale compression might end. Today, he said, a veteran teacher might earn more than $72,000 a year, twice the salary of a beginning teacher - what he called a 100 percent spread. A 30 percent spread would be ideal, he said.

The board's Human Resources Committee has been exploring compensation models since early October. Committee discussion has produced a set of themes that could guide decisions affecting teacher pay.

Specifically, the committee and administration recommended:

Grandfathering employees at their current salary, rather than considering a redistribution that might mean some employees take a cut. This was recommended to avoid a "disproportionately negative impact on employee morale," according to the memo.

Rejecting incentive bonuses in favor of increasing employee salaries on an annual basis.

Rejecting differentiation of pay based on individual teaching assignments, which also was seen as detrimental to morale.

Taking a wait-and-see approach to incorporating a new state performance evaluation system into pay formulas.

Also, Chanen said, the district should review compensation annually.

"There will come a day when the compression approach will have its limits," School Board President Michael Meier said, foreseeing the loss of senior teachers.

But Chanen said the district's experience last year indicates that "we're not at risk of losing the top quartile" - the highest paid, most senior teachers.

School Board member Tom Jarosz said state Department of Public Instruction evaluations of district schools this year show that "we're in pretty good shape, and we don't want to do anything to muck it up."

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