Teacher Salary Schedule Background

The key issue separating the Hinsdale High School Teachers Association (HHSTA) and the District #86 School Board in their increasingly acrimonious contract negotiations is the board’s proposed elimination of a salary schedule as the basis for teacher pay. While this might seem like an obscure issue for non-teachers, salary schedules have been the foundation of teacher contracts for decades. And if the board refuses to budge on its proposal, it’s hard to imagine a settlement being reached anytime soon or without job action. Given the importance of this issue, it’s vital for interested parties to understand just what teachers’ salary schedules are and how they work.

Basically, a salary schedule has two components: years of teaching experience and amount of education, or steps and lanes. For each year taught, a teacher will advance one step on the salary schedule, with each step increasing the teacher’s pay more than the previous step. In theory, teachers improve with more experience, so the steps reward that improvement with a commensurate raise. No, given the subjective nature of teaching, you can’t quantify how much better a teacher is from year to year, but every teacher who has taught for more than a couple of years will tell you that he got better as the years went by. A typical salary schedule will have about twenty steps so that it takes two decades for teachers to maximize their earnings.

Lanes are based on the amount of education a teacher has completed. All teachers have to have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college, so the first lane in a salary schedule will be based on a BA, with no additional education. When a teacher has completed a certain number of graduate hours beyond that BA or earned a Master’s degree/Doctorate, she will move to a different lane. Most school districts have anywhere from five-to-seven lanes: BA, BA + 15 graduate hours, Master’s, Master’s +30, and Master’s +60/Doctorate is pretty typical. And each step in the lane with more education pays more than the same step (experience) in the lane with less education.

So a teacher right out of college with a B.A. will start at Step 1, Lane 1, also known as the “base” salary. The next year, he will move to Step 2 in the BA lane. And if he does enough coursework to qualify for a more advanced lane, he will move to Step 3 in the B.A. +15 lane in his third year. When a salary schedule is laid out on a piece of paper, the steps go from top (least experienced) to bottom (most experienced) with the lanes going from left (least education) to the far right (most education). As teachers advance in their careers, then, they will move down and to the right as their experience and education increase.

As salary schedules have evolved, many have made use of multipliers. These work by assigning each step on the schedule an “index number.” The base salary (Step 1, BA Lane) would start with 1.00, and each succeeding step would have a slightly larger index number. Step 2 in the BA Lane might be 1.03, or 3% more than Step 1, while Step 10 in the MA Lane could be 1.60, 60% higher than the base. This simplifies negotiations as the dollar amount for the base is the only figure specifically bargained. Once the base has been determined, all the other cells on the schedule are multiplied by that new base number to generate all the dollar amounts. If a $45,000 base salary were increased by 2% to $45,900, you would multiply that new base ($45,900) by the other index numbers, 1.03 and 1.60 in our examples, to get the new salaries of $47,277 and $73,440 (as opposed to $46,350 and $72,000 on the previous schedule) for those particular steps in those lanes.

In District #86, the teachers’ salary schedule in the recently expired contract had five lanes with up to nineteen steps. So last school year, teachers with a BA and no experience started at $52,379 and those with nineteen years’ experience along with a Master’s degree plus sixty graduate hours beyond a Master’s earned the top salary of $126,247. (The 2013-14 salary schedule for District #86, with index numbers in green, can be found on the last page of this document: http://hinsdale86.org/departments/hr/Documents/District%2086%20-%20Teachers%20Contract%202010-14%20FINAL%20Reopener.pdf.) For some perspective, here are the starting salaries/top salaries/number of steps of several other area school districts for the 2013-14 school year: Maine Township—$54,318/129,387/20; Downers Grove—$49,862/118,757/23; Lyons—$54,492/127,512/18; Stevenson—$52,298/122,848/21; and Glenbard—$50,192/120,461/20.

Salary schedules evolved as a reasonable way to compensate teachers, given the challenges of objectively determining the value of individual teachers. Of course teachers are not uniformly talented, dedicated, and/or skilled; but the low salaries of the past meant that the least school districts could do was to standardize the rates at which all teachers were underpaid. (This might be a good time for me to remind you all that I was a teacher and union activist for thirty-three years, twenty-five of which were in District #86 as an English teacher and contract negotiator at Hinsdale South. Any biases found in this essay reflect that history.) Teaching has traditionally been one of the lower-paying professions for college-educated people; but with salary schedules, potential career earnings and rates of increase were there for everyone to see. That stability/predictability was one of the compensations teachers received for choosing a career that did not have the earning potential of many other fields that required college diplomas.

Clearly things have improved with the advent of collective bargaining and unions negotiating both wages and working conditions. As you saw in the salary list above, suburban high school teachers can look forward to making a decent living, one that will enable them to live a middle-class life and raise a family. Being public employees, however, those gains can be buffeted by political winds through the election process. Rick Skoda and Ed Corcoran (the lead negotiators for the Hinsdale #86 school board) are challenging that progress with proposals that would eliminate the salary schedule in Hinsdale #86 and basically limit teacher raises to a fraction of inflation. Degrees would be compensated, but from what the board has publicized, only Master’s degrees or doctorates; teachers wouldn’t be able to increase their earnings with just graduate hours as opposed to a degree as they went through the expensive process of taking classes. (While there are many school districts which contribute to the costs of graduated courses, District #86 has never done so. Teachers pay for all the courses they take and reap the benefits of lane shift increases after they’ve paid for and earned the credit.)

Merit pay is also a part of the board’s proposal: Teachers could earn an additional stipend if their administrators’ evaluations of them made the grade. In other words, two-to-six formal observations by a department chair or assistant principal would determine if the teacher were “good enough” to merit a few more dollars. Without question, the board’s current offer would lower teacher salaries significantly, especially when coupled with another of the board’s proposals that the teachers increase their contributions to the cost of health insurance through more monthly premiums, a direct cost to all teachers in the plan.

Whether or not you agree with the board’s vision of teacher compensation, Skoda and Corcoran are definitely outliers with these proposals. According to the 2013-2014 Illinois State Board of Education “Illinois Teacher Salary Study,” there were three districts in the state out of 799 total (0.4%) that did not have salary schedules. Only 2.4% of Illinois districts had any form of merit pay in their contracts. There are many other statistics in this report (which can be found in this document: http://www.isbe.net/research/pdfs/teacher_salary_13-14.pdf), but these two facts belie those who claim that the board’s proposal is part of a “trend” in Illinois. (At the July 21 board meeting, one fan of eliminating the salary schedule stated that Maine Township High School District #207 and Butler Elementary #53 had done so, despite #207’s having a contract which guarantees a salary schedule through June 2015. The Maine #207 teacher contract can be found at “http://www.maine207.org/assets/1/15/BOE_MTA%20Agreement%202012-2015.Final.pdf. Butler, though, has indeed scrapped its schedule, an explanation of which can be seen here: http://www.butler53.com/pages/ButlerSchoolDistrict53/News/Butler_Board_and_Teachers_Appr.

So the District #86 community (parents, students, teachers, board members, and everyone else who lives there) is going to have to determine just how important it is to eliminate the salary schedule and institute merit pay. Next time, we’ll show exactly how the board’s current proposal would impact newly hired teachers over the course of twenty years of their teaching careers.

For a more detailed analysis of salary schedules and some of the ways they could be improved (as opposed to abolished), check out my eBook, Snowflake Schools, details of which as well as excerpts can be found at http://www.snowflake-schools.com/.



  1. Pingback: Step Increases and Raises |
  2. Pingback: What We Learned from District 86: Teachers |
  3. Pingback: Comparing the Proposals: Money |

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