The Rapid City school board and its teachers can’t agree on how to distribute the new $5.2 million appropriated by the state to raise teacher pay to regionally competitive levels. The fundamental conflict lies in the board’s plan to focus the money on new teachers and take away automatic raises for experience and continuing education for veteran teachers.
Based on my calculations, Rapid City is getting enough new money from the state to give each of its 900-some teachers raises of $3,800 to $5,700, depending on how much of the new money they allocate to benefits and overhead, per the new funding formula. According to Superintendent Tim Mitchell’s press release following the union’s rejection of the plan, the board is replacing its salary schedule with the following four main planks:
- Raise starting pay $8,000—from $32K to $40K.
- Step new teachers up to $50K in five years.
- Raise salaries for veteran teachers making over $50K by $3,000 this year.
- Make future raises for teachers at or above $50K contingent on negotiations and new money from the Legislature.
Dr. Mitchell offers numbers showing that, under the board’s proposal, a fifth-year teacher could see a jump of $15,000:
To be clear, we value all of our teachers, but here are the facts: our first-year teachers start at $32,000 per year. After working in our district for five years, they make $34,922. That is not anywhere near the $48,500 average that our taxpayers and legislators expect us to reach. Again, in an effort to follow the intent of the law, we proposed that a much larger portion of the new money go to teachers making under $50,000 [Supt. Tim Mitchell, press release, Rapid City Area Schools, 2016.06.01].
What’s that about “the intent of the law”? Ah, yes, the Steinhauer amendment. Recall that after Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-33/Rapid City) got done taking $6 million away from mostly small schools with her amendment nixing the two-year enrollment stabilizer, Rep. Wayne Steinhauer (R-9/Hartford) tacked the following declaration of legislative intent onto Senate Bill 131, the new K-12 funding formula:
It is the intent of the Legislature that any money appropriated for teacher compensation using the education funding plan included in this Act be used to directly improve teacher recruiting and retention and that the school districts advance this goal by increasing starting teacher salaries and providing for the rapid acceleration of teacher salaries for those below the midpoint in that teacher’s applicable pay scale [Senate Bill 131, Section 28, as amended, 2016.03.08].
The board’s plan does indeed align with the new formula’s intent: boost base pay and accelerate raises below the midpoint to encourage recruitment of new teachers. But does it align with good policy?
An eager reader fortuitously forwards this new report from the Learning Policy Institute on the benefits of having experienced teachers:
As teachers gain experience—both within their first few years in the classroom as well as later in their careers—they are better able to foster student learning. This is particularly true when teachers are working in supportive and collegial school environments where teachers engage in common planning and share in decision-making, school staff are focused on a shared vision for student achievement, and principals are supportive. A more stable and experienced teaching staff benefits students across the entire school, as more experienced teachers are better able to support their less experienced colleagues in producing student achievement. Importantly, retention is also higher in this type of school environment, creating a virtuous cycle in which supportive and collegial schools are able to attract and retain excellent, experienced teachers, who are the ones best positioned to contribute to school-wide learning and greater student achievement [Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky, “Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research,” Learning Policy Institute, June 2016, p. 29].
So not only do veteran teachers do more for our kids, but they also help the new teachers do more for our kids.
And you know how Rapid City has a higher proportion of low-income and American Indian students than many South Dakota school districts? Teacher experience matters there, too:
The pursuit of policies to simultaneously build an experienced, continually-learning teaching workforce while reducing teacher turnover also makes economic sense. A study published in 2007 found that, at that time, the costs to school districts of replacing a teacher who leaves in the early part of her career ranged from $4,366 in a small rural district to nearly $18,000 in a large urban district, at an estimated national cost of more than $7 billion annually. With these costs likely even higher today, this is not a wise use of scarce resources that could instead be used to create conditions which would retain teachers and improve their effectiveness. Given the research demonstrating that teacher effectiveness improves, on average, with experience, policies to keep experienced teachers in the classroom and reduce teacher turnover can increase student achievement and reduce student absenteeism. In turn, this can contribute to long-term economic benefits to students and to taxpayers in terms of reduced grade retention, special education costs, and drop out rates. Such policies are especially critical for schools serving large concentrations of low-income students and students of color, who are more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers churning through their schools [Kini and Podolsky, 2016, p. 29].
Enhanced compensation and opportunities to avoid flat career trajectories are among the policy Kini and Podolsky’s policy recommendations for keeping experienced teachers. Rapid City’s faithful implementation of the Steinhauer amendment may recruit new teachers (although the state’s target average salary of $48,500 still leaves Rapid City $9,000 behind the estimated current average pay in Wyoming), but it falls short on retaining experienced teachers.
The board has declared an impasse, which means the board can now impose whatever salary agreement it wants (which makes clear the actual power of the teachers’ union in South Dakota).