Paying More for Good Teachers Isn’t So Simple

When someone says, “We should pay new teachers whatever it takes to get them into our district,” I don’t disagree; however, that statement is not so simple. My knowledge is limited on this topic, but I can share what I do know. One of the things I know is that without added explanation, this statement from a candidate for school board could be an indicator that they aren’t fully aware of how teacher pay and school financials work.

To be clear, my point of talking about teacher pay is not because I am against paying teachers more. I believe we should pay teachers as much as school budgets can support. I don’t believe we’ll ever be able to pay most teachers what they are worth. Rather, I decided to talk on this topic because a school board candidate indicated we should pay more to get new teachers into our district – and that’s a bit more complex statement than the simple talking point she was making indicates.

First, teacher salaries are public. Yes, you can look up how much your teacher makes. You can also look up your principal and all the other public employees working in our schools. Know a married couple both working in the district? You can look to see who make more! You can also look up the Mayor, but that’s a post for a different time.

Salaries for teachers are negotiated by a representative of the local association. I’ll wager that the representative pushes for as much money as possible. I’ll also would wager that the administration and school board work to pay as much as they believe is feasible within the budget.

So when a candidate says, “We should pay whatever we have to in order to get good teachers regardless of cost,” I don’t disagree, but I get concerned with such a statement in a district our size.

If you are unfamiliar with teacher pay, you might be say, “Hey, we need more teachers, so just bump up the salary for new teaches by $10,000 and we’ll get a few to come here from the neighboring schools!

Why? Because unlike other businesses that are private, if we can’t offer a new teacher a salary that is different from the amounts already being paid current teachers.

This might lead people to say, “increase our rates!” That’s a great idea; however, as a district we are still operating within a budget. Remember several years ago when we passed a large increase in a referendum? That was done with the administration saying we’d cut up to 100 staff including some teachers if we didn’t. (That’s a topic for another post/article as well!).

So this leads to a question: How much more would we need to pay to get more teachers? Would it be $1,000, $2,000? Or would it be $10,000? While $1,000 doesn’t seem like much, if you have 1,000 teachers, then that $1,000 just became a million dollars+ in extra costs to make the increase. I say a million-plus because when you increase salary, it also impacts other taxes and other monies a district has to pay as well.

How many teachers do we have within HSE? Over well over 1,000, so a teacher pay increase isn’t a trivial thing to toss around. When people pushed for smaller class sizes, that increased the number of teachers. When you increase the number of teachers, it make it harder to do pay increases.

The district did recently do work with teacher salaries. Personally, I believe our district spends money in some areas that would be better directed to staffing. Regardless, with Indiana state revenues decreasing, budgets are going to be an issue, which means the idea of trying to increase teacher pay to draw more to HSE is going to be an even bigger challenge.

If you see a school board candidate toss out a statement like, “we just need to pay more,” ask them how much it will cost the district to do so. Ask them what they are going to cut to cover the costs assuming state revenue is going to get cut. Paying more to get a few new teachers could cost millions!

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