School districts around the country are engaging in some tricky budget tactics to make ends meet during these tough economic times. Current teacher salary schedules, which provide salary increases in "steps" based on experience and credentials, provide obstacles to simply lowering teacher compensation to prevent layoffs. While some districts have been able to use stimulus funds to rehire previously laid-off teachers, many have not been so lucky.
A recently released study by Marguerite Roza from the Center on Reinventing Public Education outlines several options districts can use to balance their budgets. While these provide alternatives to significant layoffs, they often require approval by local teachers unions - a difficult task. Nevertheless, news sources suggest that districts are successfully engaging in many of these options.
Roza presents five potential options for rethinking teacher compensation and estimates the average resulting salary change, number of necessary layoffs per 1,000 teachers, and percentage increase in class size that result from each. The first option, involving a modest increase in the overall salary schedule as well as maintaining existing "step" increases due to years of experience in the schedule, is the most costly option. It would require an average 5.16 percent salary increase, 143 layoffs per 1,000 teachers, and a 16.7 percent increase in class size. Most districts across the country are choosing this option, which requires the least amount of concessions from the union but results in the most layoffs.
The second option-freezing the current salary schedule but maintaining the increases for experience-requires laying off an average of 119 out of 1,000 teachers and causes a 13.5 percent increase in class sizes. Districts like Sacramento City and others in the surrounding area in California have opted to move ahead with existing step salary increases while forgoing any across-the-board increases. Hillsboro School District in Oregon has opted to freeze the schedule while also reducing the size of salary steps by half. While these options will still cost districts millions of additional dollars in compensation and require significant layoffs, the impact on district budgets and layoffs will not be as large as that presented in the first option.
Roza's third option, a complete salary freeze, would require laying off only 75 of every 1,000 teachers and necessitate a 8.1 percent class size increase. Blaine County Schools in Idaho have elected to use this option with the teachers union's approval, limiting the number of layoffs necessary. Visalia School District in California has also chosen a salary freeze but is maintaining increases allowed for teachers who have earned additional credentials. While politically risky, salary freezes seem to be more viable with unions than salary decreases, Roza's fourth and fifth options.
One form of salary rollback involves shifting the entire salary schedule back by 5 percent but allowing for step changes averaging 3.16 percent to continue. This option comes out to a 1.84 percent overall decrease in salary and necessitates 47 layoffs out of 1,000 teachers and a 4.9 percent class size increase. The fifth and final option involves a larger rollback of 8.16 percent but still allows for the 3.16 percent step increases, creating a 5 percent salary decrease overall. This option requires no layoffs and no class size changes.
Unsurprisingly, few districts have been able to gain union approval for actual teacher salary cuts. Lynwood School District in southern California, however, recently finalized plans for a 3 percent cut for all teacher salaries, allowing many laid off teachers to return to their jobs.
Tough economic times call for tough decisions. In many cases, teachers unions approve temporary salary freezes or cuts to avoid significant layoffs. Roza's analysis suggests that accepting these compromises now may produce better outcomes for teachers in the long run, allowing them to keep their jobs and eliminate the need to increase class sizes. Ed Money Watch will keep you updated as more districts engage in these difficult budget negotiations.