Volume 2 Issue 1

How Jeffco Can Improve Its Compensation Model

by Dr. Paula Noonan

Former Jeffco Board Member 2009-2013

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Many people have kicked around the question of how to compensate public school educators, especially teachers. Jeffco’s current system of “steps and levels” is based on years of experience and academic credits and degrees, and has been around for over 60 years. For the past 15 years the district has had committees looking at different compensation models.

The goal of the current system is to ensure teachers have a stable, reliable, and predictable salary structure. New teachers come in at the lowest step at about $35,000, or less. At 28 years, with 75 credits above a BA degree, teachers make as much as $81,000. They can earn up to $75,000 with 60 credits and up to $72,700 with 40 credits at 28 years.

At the 28-year mark and with 75 credits, teachers receive no more raises based on steps or levels.  Over 28 years, there’s roughly a $1,000 to $1,500 average annual increase, from beginning to end, if teachers hit the higher levels of credits. Currently, teachers pay for their own degrees or credits. Teacher compensation also includes health and retirement benefits.

Needless to say, the world has changed a lot since the 1950s and 60s when the salary schedule was first developed. Unlike then, public education now competes with every profession for excellent employees. Women, especially, can now move into medicine, the law, engineering and sciences, and business, which sometimes pay more money for new hires than teachers make at any point in their careers.

Today’s college graduates, who have borrowed for their education, will carry more debt compared to their income than did graduates in the 1960s. Current graduates have to weigh the income and “time off” factors in a teaching career against the income and “time off” factors of other professions. They have to weigh the level of satisfaction each career brings. Income opportunity in other careers often wins out. For example, for graduating college seniors with $50,000 or more in student loan debt, making $35,000 in their first year in the classroom won’t cut it, whether they’d like to teach or not.

The district is left to answer the question of how teacher compensation can accomplish the following key goals:

·      Pay enough to attract new employees with great teaching potential who must weigh debt and income along with the benefits of the teaching profession

·      Offer enough income to enable teachers to support their families and give their children a future

·      Pay in a way that meets the needs of some students for more time in the classroom

·      Attract or develop highly skilled specialists needed for special education, English language instruction, and other specialized subjects and skills

·      Attract career changers or others who do not intend to teach for an entire career

·      Provide career paths, offering adequate income, as an alternative to administration

·      Support the innovation, creativity, team work, collaboration, and ongoing professional development so important to improving student achievement.

A compensation system that focuses entirely on “pay for performance” is too narrow and confining. Most teachers do not enter or stay in their jobs just for “the pay”. They are attracted to teaching for the rewards of watching kids grow every day intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Pay and time off are necessary, but not sufficient to maintain ongoing excitement and engagement with the profession.

I’m looking for a system that’s flexible, predictable, and career-oriented. It should be founded on “value-added” principles. The structure should be flexible enough to meet changing needs in delivering quality education, but predictable for teachers to decide what paths they want to follow to increase their income and deepen their responsibilities.

This system should reward teachers who consistently exceed their school’s goals, and their own goals, for kids to reach their achievement potential. It should reward teachers who develop and share effective instructional techniques and proven content that enables kids to learn. It should reward teachers who contribute to and lead their teams to success.

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Jeffco’s compensation should reward teachers who effectively meet the need for specialized competence in teaching hard-to-reach kids. It should reward teachers who choose to work in schools where academic achievement meets many difficult challenges, and where teachers choose to work with disadvantaged kids so they acquire the knowledge and skills they need to get a job or go to college.

Such a system should reward teachers who collaborate and mentor, enabling other teachers to increase their capacity and productivity.  It should reward teachers who put in more time with kids to get them through difficult lessons, bring them up to proficiency, or enable them to grow beyond their own expectations. It should reward teachers who qualify to teach college-level classes in high school or who get national certifications.

It should reward teachers who work effectively with parents. It should reward teachers who reach out to the community to enrich classroom experiences or increase volunteering. It should be competitive enough to attract the best and brightest to teaching.

A value-added compensation system, focused on rewarding teachers who are highly effective in contributing to the overall success of the education enterprise, can be flexible, targeted to specific needs, career-oriented, and opportunity-driven.

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Teachers who have many channels and opportunities for adding value are likely to find success paths that match their skills, competencies, and interests. A compensation system structured to promote adding value reinforces behaviors that will build a learning, constantly improving, committed education enterprise.

Jeffco can be a compensation innovator if it constructs a system that is dynamic and supple in meeting student needs and is transparent and predictable for teachers. It should be installed for all new teachers and made available to current teachers. It should be sufficiently attractive in dollars ($40,000+ to start) to make it viable for new college graduates and, just as important, consistently empowering to give teachers the room to do what makes teaching a great job.

A system that offers multiple paths and opportunities for teachers to add proven value to each child’s education, and to the overall capacity of the District, is a compensation system worthy of any college graduate’s consideration and will earn the ongoing dedication of excellent educators. I encourage the Jeffco board and association to implement such a program in 2014-2015.

It is time the compensation structure matched the goals and needs of the system.