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Whitefish Bay moves forward with new teacher compensation plan

District plans increases that especially benefit new teachers

April 2, 2014

Whitefish Bay — The Whitefish Bay School District is moving forward with its proposed new teacher compensation model, with the support of district educators.

Following a School Board presentation and discussion on the issue on March 26, teachers commented that the model successfully brings into focus the values of district educators.

"One of the things that really strikes me about this model, in discussions with members and other instructional staff, is how this model values the same things that teachers value," said Michelle Mooney, a teacher at Richards Elementary and president of the Whitefish Bay Education Association (WBEA).

That reaction was echoed by Jeff Widder, fellow Richards Elementary teacher and WBEA co-negotiator, who added that the model goes beyond what people value to also consider the research and what has been proven effective.

"We're not just looking at flashes in the pan, but we're really looking at what's effective in the long term," Widder said.

Superintendent Laura Myrah said the overall teacher response to the model – which aims to attract and retain excellent teachers while also providing funding sustainability – has been positive since the district fully rolled it out earlier this month.

Developed over the course of several months by a group of three district administrators, two board members and one teacher from each of the district's four schools, the model strives to achieve equity for all teachers, while directing more funds to teachers at the low end of the salary scale, in an effort to minimize salary differentiation and raise the floor of the salary structure over time.

"The greatest change in the proposed salary structure is that raises are allocated on a sliding scale, with more money pushed toward the lower-paid teachers and less money going toward the higher-paid teachers," Myrah said. "It's about a 4:1 ratio, and that's very different than our previous structure."

Business Services Director Shawn Yde explained that if a flat percentage increase were applied across the entire scale at the level of the consumer price index (CPI), currently at about 2 percent, it would result in much higher pay increases for those at the top of the scale than those at the bottom. This aspect of the model attempts to address that.

What about merit pay?

"How do we keep our superior performers from being disappointed?" asked resident Mike Braun, suggesting it would be more equitable to give larger raises to higher-performing teachers, rather than lower-earning teachers. "I don't think that this schedule does that at all. It continues to say we don't care about performance, we care about other things."

Board member Jim Phillips, who served on the committee, said the group examined data related to merit pay, for which essentially two systems exist – one that pays based on higher scores, and another based on evaluations. The committee's research revealed that merit pay often results in a narrowed curriculum by encouraging educators to teach to what is being tested and to focus more on students where they are likely to have the most success, Phillips said.

Additionally, merit pay has also been found to discourage collaboration and lead to anger among teachers, rather than motivating them. Committee members have previously stated that the district is not interested in pursuing a merit pay system at this time.

Except for teachers being non-renewed or placed on a formal plan of improvement, or those at the top of the salary scale, everyone would see some pay increase under the proposed model, which brings the bottom of the base teacher salary scale up to $40,000, and caps it at $81,000. That range was determined through comparing the salary and benefits of competing school districts in southeastern Wisconsin, Myrah said.

Applying 'fixes'

To get all teachers to the desired starting salary level, the district would complete "fixes" to adjust the salaries of teachers currently earning below $40,000. Adjustments also would be made for any teachers who during the last three years would have received lane movement under the old salary schedule, such as through earning continuing education credits or degrees.

In a nutshell, the model would incorporate recurring base pay increases for teachers completing pre-approved advanced learning, such as national board certification, a master's or doctorate degree, and specialized or additional certifications and licenses. In addition, it would factor in experience and number of years teaching and in the district; participation in professional development; and leadership roles, such as coaching, mentoring or chairing a department, into teacher compensation.

In terms of determining teachers' initial salaries, the hiring salary of new teachers would continue to be set by administration using the current criteria noted in the instructional employee handbook, Myrah said.

"In hiring, we need to take into consideration the area of certification, years of experience, education and professional development, professional contributions to the school, community and/or field of education, and specific job assignment," Myrah explained. "This isn't any new language, but it helps account for (salary) differences that may have to happen when hiring."

For example, filling a reading specialist or guidance counselor position might be a more costly hire for the district, Myrah said.

Allocating money

Of the money available annually for teacher compensation increases, about 85 percent would go toward raises for all teachers, with the remaining 15 percent typically going toward additional pay increases for those who complete advanced learning, although those amounts could vary somewhat from year to year.

Nonrecurring pay increases included in the compensation model would be covered through a budget allocation above and beyond the typical CPI-generated funds available for raises, Myrah said.

In response to resident concerns that the model would lead to increased taxes for the community, "Ultimately, the district's resources are really controlled by the revenue cap, not necessarily the CPI number," Yde said.

In fact, increasing base wages above the CPI would require the district to go to referendum and receive a positive or majority vote, which the district would not be looking to do, Myrah stressed.

Although no action was taken by the board, members expressed support for the work of the committee in reaching the proposed model.

"This is the perfect collaboration to show that we value collaboration," board member Kristin Yunker said.

Myrah said she has been working with other committee members to put together a Q&A document in response to teacher questions, most of which have dealt with technical aspects of the plan. The board will vote on the model at its April 9 business meeting. If it is approved, the district anticipates that teacher salary changes would take effect by the end of May, Myrah said.

NEXT STEP

WHAT:Whitefish Bay School Board to act on proposed new teacher compensation model

WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 9

WHERE:Whitefish Bay High School, 1200 E. Fairmount Ave.

BY THE NUMBERS

$40,000 to $81,000

approximate salary range proposed by the new teacher compensation model

$37,000 to $77,000

approximate current teacher salary range

$2,000

amount that would be added onto a teacher's base salary for completing a master's or doctorate degree or national board certification

$300 to $1,200

amount that would be added onto a teachers' base salary for earning an additional state certification or license

220

approximate number of educators in the district

35

number of educators who would receive pay adjustments under the model as a result of earning a master's or doctorate degree, or achieving lane movement

27

number of teachers currently earning below $40,000, who would receive salary adjustments under the new model

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