Waukesha Emphasizes Recruitment, Retention of New Teachers with Help from Act 10

July 25, 2013

by James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

They may be tardy, but they have a note. The Waukesha School District has finally settled the teacher salary plan for the 2011-2012 school year. The salary plan is not without controversy because of the way raises are to be handled out. The salary plan favors more recently hired teachers over those with more seniority.

The longer-tenured teachers were not happy. According to the Waukesha Freeman, teacher Jill Anderson said she’s lost over $10,000 since Act 10 and now has to work two side jobs to maintain a middle class lifestyle.

However, Waukesha School District Superintendent Todd Gray disputed that in an interview Tuesday. “The only one who has lost $10,000 is me.” He said that the most any teacher has lost as a result of the changes since Act 10 is $5,000 to $6,000 per year, and that’s in pre-tax income.

Gray said Anderson earns over $60,500 as a teacher in the district, above the median household income in the district. One of her other jobs is as Vice President of the local teachers union. Gray asked, “How hard could that be,” given the limits on collective bargaining due to the passage of Act 10.

The plan that sparked such acrimony would give an automatic across-the-board $400 wage increase to every teacher. In addition, teachers employed for less than four years would get an additional increase of $800. The additional increase actually becomes smaller for teachers with more experience, dropping down to an additional $89 for those with 14-17 years of experience.

Teacher pay for those with the most experience in the school district has been a source of controversy before. Under a previous salary schedule, teachers could move from the bottom of the salary ladder to the top, from $38,000 per year to $78,000, in as little as nine years. In addition to the step and experience increases, teachers could “change lanes” on the salary schedule by continuing their education, speeding up the point at which a teacher would be “maxed out” on the salary schedule.

It also meant that while the district was negotiating with the union a salary increase that theoretically matched the requirements of the state’s Qualified Economic Offer (QEO), the total salary increase was actually much larger. That changed two years ago when the district allowed the collective bargaining agreement to expire and then refused to allow teacher early retirements until a contract agreement was made with a new salary schedule in place, extending the minimum length of time to climb the salary ladder to 16 years. Now with Act 10, there is no salary schedule.

This round of salary negotiations also started rocky with the union contending Dane County Judge Colas’ ruling meant the Act 10 collective bargaining limits on the Waukesha School District are invalid. The district stood its ground, however, saying that the Colas’ ruling only affects the district that is party to the lawsuit. Then the union showed little interest in negotiating, Gray said, merely rejecting the district’s proposals without offering a counter-proposal. “We were negotiating with ourselves,” Gray said.

Finally the district took advantage of the power given to it under Act 10 to create the salary increase plan unilaterally. When Gray was asked about the policy that seemed to be counter to the belief that more experienced teachers have higher value to the district, Gray said that studies indicate that after four to five years of teaching experience, the effect of more experience seems to diminish.

To Gray, the end result was one of equity. He said that if the district had just given a flat percentage increase to every teacher in the district, the wage gap between the more experienced teachers and the less experienced teachers would have grown. He added that it would “shortchange those at the bottom” who, in his opinion, are paying more as a result of Act 10.

According to Gray, the district is in good shape for the coming year. This is due to the projected increase in state funding for public schools in the state budget and the insurance changes made by the district since the enactment of Act 10. The district has saved over a million dollars with a switch to self-insurance. And while there have been some increases in some health insurance deductibles, the lower premium costs puts more money in teachers’ pockets.

It’s clear that Act 10 has done more than help stabilize the school district financially. It has also allowed the district to emphasize the recruitment and retention of newer teachers in the district. Act 10 put the superintendent and the school board in charge of setting the priorities for the district, but some of the more senior teachers and union officers haven’t adjusted yet.