In the city of Reynoldsburg, a small suburb east of Columbus, contract negotiations between the teachers and the school district have broken down as a result of the School Board’s proposal to tie salaries to the state’s new teacher evaluation system while eliminating district-provided healthcare.
The School Board has been in full marketing mode for their plan, but as we’ve discovered, their talking points simply don’t support the facts.
Reynoldsburg has consistently performed among the top school districts in Ohio, and over the past four years has shown continued improvement based on reporting by the Ohio Department of Education. In 2010, the district received a rating of “Effective”. In the three succeeding years, the district advanced to receive ratings of “Excellent”, then “Excellent with Distinction”, and then received a grade of “A” on the state’s new report card last year. In all three of those years, the district met 100% of the state’s performance indicators.
Even more impressive, the teachers in Reynoldsburg have accomplished this feat with a changing student population – specifically an increase in the number of students living in poverty of over 10% (from 37.6% to 47.9%). With socioeconomic status being a huge factor in student achievement, such gains on state indicators simply cannot be ignored.
Instead of recognizing these accomplishments on the part of the teaching staff, the Reynoldsburg School Board has chosen to engage in negotiation tactics designed to divide the teaching staff, implying that a great disparity exists among the teaching ranks. The performance of the district as a whole contradicts that notion.
The biggest recurring claim of the Reynoldsburg School Board is that they need to implement a “competitive” compensation plan in order to recruit and retain “excellent” teachers. From the district’s FAQ page:
“… we face tough competition to hold onto good teachers who are being courted by districts with pay flexibility, and to recruit excellent new teachers. We know through daily experience that our teachers revere teaching excellence, and that they want to teach alongside the best teachers available.”
“…we are stuck with pay schedules that don’t recognize excellence and that don’t allow us to compete with offers from other districts. The only way for a great teacher to achieve a significant increase in salary is to move to another district or to administration. That’s true for most districts, but the competition is going to get worse.”
Let’s look at this apparent salary issue for Reynoldsburg. According to the School Board, they need to be competitive with other school districts in order to recruit and retain excellent teachers. Below is a chart showing the average 2012-13 teacher salary for Reynoldsburg and other local districts that would be “competing” for the same teachers:
On this list, Reynoldsburg has the 2nd lowest average salary, so the Board’s claims of needing to increase salaries seems to have merit, but this simple chart does not tell the whole story. Take a look at the average salaries for the same districts over the past four years:
Of these competing districts, Reynoldsburg is the only district whose average teacher salary has actually decreased, and the margin is not even close. While every other district’s average salary has increased, and while the districts’ combined average salary has increased by 1.7%, the average Reynoldsburg teacher’s salary has decreased by 4.5% over the past four years.
Is this because Reynoldsburg’s salary schedule does not allow them to “compete with offers from other districts” as the School Board claims? Not at all. Look at the following chart that compares key points on the salary schedules from these same districts.
As you can see, Reynoldsburg’s existing salary schedule is right among the average for all of these competing districts and, with one exception, ranks in the top half. The significant difference is the amount that Reynoldsburg pays to those experienced teachers with a Master’s degree. Given that many teachers these days are graduating with a Master’s degree before obtaining their first teaching job, and since 78% of Reynoldsburg’s teachers have their Master’s degree already, this low figure could be key a reason that teachers would jump ship to one of the many other district’s offering a bump in pay at a level in which they could still likely get credit for the same number of years of teaching experience.
The fact that these salary schedules are very similar still leaves us wondering about the dramatic decrease in average salary that has been occurring in Reynoldsburg. The most obvious explanation is that experienced teachers are leaving and being replace with younger teachers who are at the beginning of the pay scale. But as we can see, since the salary differences aren’t that dramatic, then there must be other factors leading to this exodus of experienced teachers. Given the particular nature of these negotiations as being driven by the Administration, it’s not hard to imagine that the climate in Reynoldsburg is not so teacher-friendly and, as any educator will tell you, a good climate is a major factor in work satisfaction in any school building or district.
More evidence that points to the Administration trying to create division among the teaching staff is encapsulated in their explanation of the proposal to eliminate district-sponsored healthcare benefits. In the district’s narrative, they seek to pit unmarried teachers against married teachers by claiming that unmarried teachers are unfairly penalized despite receiving the same salary and same individual benefits that a married teacher does. Here’s the explanation from the district’s FAQs [emphasis added]:
There are two kinds of inequities involved in our current health insurance rules. First, imagine Faith and Hope, two great teachers, both single. Faith gets married and takes a family plan from the district. Immediately taxpayers are investing about $10,000 more a year on Faith than on Hope, despite the fact that they are both equally good at their jobs.
For Hope, this amounts to a penalty for her making the lifestyle choice of staying single. That’s seriously unfair. Now let’s talk about inequity to the taxpayers. It turns out that Faith’s new husband has a job with an employer who offers coverage. But they like the Reynoldsburg plan better, so they both go on it. Faith’s husband’s employer now is free of cost for him, but Reynoldsburg taxpayers are picking up his coverage, despite the fact that he provides no benefit whatever to Reynoldsburg students. That’s unfair to taxpayers. The board’s proposal is designed to [enact] one-size-fits-all inequitable coverage, and replace it with cash payments that teachers can use to select the best products for themselves. Not only is unfairness eliminated, but teachers have more ability to choose what’s right for them.
The intent of the district is not to cut costs, but to offer a better, more flexible, fairer benefit to be used as individual teachers want and need regardless of their personal choices concerning marriage.
It is also the intention of the proposal to eliminate the current inequity between the compensation packages of married teachers vs. single teachers.
Right now, the inequity is large. When a teacher marries and elects family coverage, the value of his or her compensation package increases approximately $10,000 per year without any corresponding increase in the quality of his or her teaching. This is inherently unfair to single teachers, and our proposal seeks to close that gap.
If the teachers’ union, which includes both married and unmarried teachers does not support this plan (which it apparently does not), then the “fairness” arguments put forth by the Administration fall completely flat.
Furthermore, the claim that the “intent of the district is not to cut costs” can be considered false when that statement is thrown right smack dab in the middle of an explanation that continually throws out the monetary figure of $10,000 as a supposed savings to “taxpayers”. Add in the line from the district’s “Vision Statement” that says “This approach is in keeping with the Board of Education’s long-term fiscal goal of maintaining a positive cash balance through 2020” and we must absolutely understand that this proposal is all about cutting costs.
If Reynoldsburg truly wants to recruit good teachers and retain the excellent teachers they already have (as evidenced by the district’s improving performance), then the School Board should quit messing around and seriously reflect on how their actions are driving away experienced teachers. Instead of eliminating benefits packages that, by their own admission, most other districts have in place, they should retain the benefits for married teachers so that young, talented unmarried teachers don’t feel the need to seek employment in a district that has a better benefits package. That’s part of retaining teachers in a competitive environment, especially when the salary schedule is so similar.
And regarding the salary schedule, they should seek to increase it across the board, but especially for the large number of teachers with Master’s degrees who should be most tempted to look to competing districts that will pay them more for that extra experience (that may also help pay off the student loans required to obtain the degree).
The Reynoldsburg School Board thinks it is being innovative and forward thinking in trying to attract and retain teachers, but their misguided information, deceptive marketing, and lack of understanding of the “competitive teaching marketplace” has them driving a wedge between the excellent teachers that they already have employed in the district and instead is driving their best teachers away.
Instead of playing games, the Reynoldsburg School Board should listen to the teachers who are leading the way in improving the district’s overall performance. While School Board members come and go, it’s the teachers who will be there for decades, continuing to have a positive influence on the lives of the children and families of Reynoldsburg.