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Whitefish Bay commissions study on teacher compensation

July 17, 2013

Whitefish Bay — Administrators and elected officials of the Whitefish Bay School District are looking for a new way to compensate teachers.

Last week the School Board commissioned a study on teacher compensation to address the problems and concerns resulting from Act 10, which in 2011 took away the union's ability to bargain over anything more than a relatively small pay increase.

In the last four years, Bay teachers had their salaries frozen before receiving a 1.25 percent pay increase in the 2011-12 year and 1.35 percent in the 2012-13 year, while the administration also reduced benefits.

"(The study) stems from our experience last year, from bargaining, from staff coming in worried about salaries," said Business Manager Shawn Yde, adding that any new compensation model would have to strike a balance between "attracting and retaining quality staff while having cost-effective education."

Board can increase pay

Before Act 10, teachers were on a system that rewarded both years of experience and continued education. After Act 10, teachers unions can only bargain up to a consumer price index wage increase. Act 10 says that CPI increase is applied to a "base wage," which in many cases is less than teachers are making, meaning individual teachers earn a less-than-CPI pay raise in relation to their actual salaries.

School boards across the state, however, have the power to authorize pay increases above and beyond what unions gain at the bargaining table. The study commissioned last week by the board charges a newly formed committee with reviewing district and employee needs for compensation, considering financial implications of any changes, and presenting a fleshed-out compensation plan to the School Board by Dec. 1.

"We have become aware that we need to do something about it," School Board President Pam Woodward said. "It's the first time we're looking at a committee structure to come forward with something."

Merit pay system possible

Board members emphasized a need for the committee to update teachers and the public on its progress and to widen its study to include information from public and private schools across the state and nation.

"Many districts have implemented a new structure," said board member Cheryl Maranto. "We're not on the vanguard."

The Northland Pines School District in Eagle River is one such district. When Act 10 passed in 2011, administrators, community members, teachers — the meetings were open to anyone and everyone — almost immediately began hashing out a new pay scale.

Northland Pines Superintendent Mike Richie said Act 10 "opened the door" for discussions of a merit pay system. Such systems have been a controversial topic statewide since the passage of Act 10.

"Without Act 10, that was not going to happen," Richie said. "We knew that once Act 10 was passed, we'd have a better chance."

Two years and many public meetings later, Richie and Northland Pines have a merit pay system endorsed by their teachers union and School Board, a system that rewards hard-working teachers but doesn't break the bank.

Their system, based on a teacher evaluation system endorsed by the state Department of Public Instruction, rates teachers in a variety of criteria. The total scores fall into a 1-to-5 range, with a score of 1 tied to a lower salary and a 5 tied to a higher salary. Student test scores do not factor into the teacher ratings.

Of his 130 teachers, 17 are at level 5, Richie said, with the average falling somewhere around a 3.5. Though the merit pay system doesn't officially start until the fall, Richie said it is already motivating teachers.

"Most of our teachers are working very hard over the summer," Richie said. "I can really see the teachers who want to move up a level or not move backwards working hard."

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