by Sheila Atwell
There are many factors that make an employer attractive. Working conditions, organizational culture, and intangible benefits are all components of a decision to choose one employer over another. Another key factor is compensation, which includes a number of things in addition to base salary: time off, insurance coverage and prices, and retirement plans.
Teachers, of course, are not 9-to-5 employees; many spend hours at home correcting tests and creating lesson plans. But they typically have summers off, which can be an incredibly attractive benefit.
Jeffco teacher compensation increases have historically come in the form of “steps” and “levels.” Think of the blinds on a window with many rows and four or five columns. The steps equate to the rows and the levels equate to the columns.
Traditionally, a teacher in Jeffco receives a “step” raise for staying in the district another year and gains a “level” increase after completing varying amounts of additional education. Many transition points along the pay scale provide no raise at all—sometimes for several years.
Another type of increase that could be negotiated is a Cost of Living Allocation (COLA), which raises the amount of money given in each cell of the chart. So in order for every teacher to receive a raise, the district and the association mutually would need to agree upon a COLA amount.
The chart in the hard copy or pdf of the newspaper provides a summary of the base salary changes (Steps, Levels and COLA’s – as well as increases to PERA contributions) over the last seven years. The chart above shows the change in the ranges of teacher salaries over the past decade, including a line for the average Jeffco teacher salary.
As the chart shows, in addition to the district increasing the amount put into retirement accounts, teachers received steps and levels, as well as COLA raises, in 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10. The raises for these three years respectively equate to increases of 7.5, 6.2, and 6.5 percent.
In 2010-11 teachers received steps and levels raises, in addition to the district picking up an additional 0.5% in increased retirement costs; this equated to a 3.5 percent total increase.
In 2011-12 teachers took a 3 percent salary reduction and worked 6 fewer days. As an exception, teachers who qualified for a level increase were eligible if they completed their coursework before the end of September 2012. No step increase occurred, however. The district picked up all retirement increases (an additional 0.5 percent).
In 2012-13, after the passage of the 3A local mill levy override, the district immediately eliminated the remaining furlough days and adjusted compensation up 1 percent plus an additional half a percent for PERA. Step and level increases were frozen.
In 2013-14, the district raised work days back to 187, and increased compensation by 2 percent, returning to the pre-reduction rates. In both years, the district picked up the increased retirement contributions, but still did not reinstate steps and levels.
The results of the 2013 summit recommended that the district allocate $11.7 million for 2014-15 compensation increases. This amount would not have been enough to pay for a “step” and “level” increase, as well as the increase in PERA retirement plan costs. With the benefit of a larger budget, the new board voted to increase the amount allocated to pay increases by more than 50 percent, providing a total increase of $18.2 million.
Breaking with tradition, the board decided to allocate raises based on teacher effectiveness rather than tenure (a step). They also increased starting teachers’ ongoing salaries by an even larger percentage to make them more competitive with neighboring school districts. The board raised compensation for new teachers to $38,000 (up to a 13 percent increase), and gave ongoing raises of 2.4 percent to effective teachers and 4.2 percent to highly effect teachers.
These raises included increases for 450 teachers who would not have received any increase under the traditional model because their “step” happened to be empty, including teachers at the very top end of the pay scale. The traditional pay scale guaranteed no increases for teacher with 28 or more years of service, unless a COLA were negotiated – something that has not occurred since 2010. This year teachers at the very top of the pay scale were awarded one-time stipends. Once again, the district paid the entire PERA increase.
As the chart in the hard copy or the pdf of the newspaper shows, teacher compensation continued to increase from 2008 to 2011 while the economy slowed. Inflation rose 14.5 percent, while average take-home pay increased 21.2 percent. Jeffco teacher salaries peaked in 2011 when the federal government provided additional dollars through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Education Jobs Fund.
As part of compensation, Jeffco also allocates $585.00 a month to cover health insurance. Employees pay any extra balance for the plan they chose. This allocation has not increased despite increases in healthcare plan costs.
For the past eight years the district has picked up all increases in retirement contributions, both the 4.2 percent to be picked up by the employer (AED), and the extra 4.0 percent to be considered compensation increases (SAED).
Over the same eight years, inflation has risen a full 17.4 percent. Meanwhile, teacher base salaries have risen 21.1 percent, because of the effects of COLA increases plus steps and levels. Factoring in the SAED retirement increases picked up by the district, total average teacher compensation has increased by 27.6 percent over the last eight years.
While teachers may think that negotiated pay scales guarantee a specific pay level five, 10, or 15 years into the future, three years of step freezes indicate that it just isn’t so. Perhaps it is time for all of us to think of teachers like any other professional, where the quality of their work influences their pay and there is no ceiling.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our best teachers made six figures a year? Our students deserve to have a great teacher every single year of their educational journey.
1. The average salary includes teachers, library media specialists, counselors, psychologists, nurses, occupational therapists and other specialists.
2. The cumulative PERA increases since the passage of SB-1 in 2010 equate to a 8.2% increase in expenses to the district, 4.2% of which is paid by employer, and 4.0% paid for with monies otherwise available for raises.