Loveland's Independent News Source
Loveland - April 27, 2014

On April 16, the Thompson Board of Education reform majority passed a new contract for teachers that
becomes effective July 1, this year and significantly increases salaries for beginning teachers on September 1,
2014.  In a rare moment of unity, even the antagonists on the board, Denise Montagu, Lori Ward and Pam
Howard, voted with the reform majority to approve the negotiated contract making the official vote unanimous.

This unanimous approval of a contract for the 2014-2015 school year follows months of bickering among the
board members and very public disagreements between Board President Robert Kerrigan and the teacher's
union (Thompson Educational Association) along with past board members jumping into the fray.   A March 29,
article in the Loveland Reporter-Herald titled, "
Salary Squeeze Hits Thompson Educators"  sparked
controversy when Kerrigan was quoted as saying, "
Since I have been on  the board, the board has voted for
salary increases every year,
" contradicting the union's public position that teachers haven't received pay
increases in years.

Former school board member Becky Jay responded in various media contradicting Kerrigan's statement even
posting on the Reporter-Herald Facebook page in reaction to the article,
"Certainly, are [sic] teachers haven't
had raises, their pay is below the surrounding districts, and we are losing experienced, great teachers to
other districts!"  
Laurie Shearer, then Thompson  Education  Association President, also contradicted Kerrigan
describing the current climate among teachers in the district as "
hopeless" in the March 29, article due to not
receiving any pay increases for years.

Who Is Correct?

Teacher compensation is not the same as the private sector thus many involved in the education establishment
do not consider an increase in their pay check the same as a "
salary increase."  This is because of the terms
used for teacher contract negotiations consider only an increase in the rate of the pay scale a "salary increase"
while Kerrigan was likely referring to a more common definition that an increase in pay, regardless of the
reason, constitutes an increase in salary.

School districts, which rely primarily on property taxes and state funding, were hit hard by the 2008 housing
market collapse and subsequent recession so responded by freezing increases in pay scales and TSD was no
exception.  However, most school districts continued upwardly adjusting teacher pay each year for COLA (Cost
of Living Increases) based on inflation and continued to provide what are called "steps and columns" increases
in pay to all licensed employees in the district.  

Even during a salary freeze, teachers have been eligible to receive the following pay increases though the
teacher's union does not call these "salary increases" since the rate of pay does not change.

1.  Annual adjustments for cost of living increases sometimes based on the CPI (consumer price index).  This
year, that amounted to a 1.5% increase in all base salary rates.

2.  Salary "step" increases are increases in pay simply for working another year thus the teacher increases one  
step on the pay scale each year.  In other words, the "step" refers to an automatic increase in pay each year the
teacher works thus slowly increasing the rate of compensation.  This year those increases accounted for a 2.7%
increase across the board which together with columns amounted to an increase in pay for most teachers.

3.  Column increases (sometimes called "lanes") is another, additional increase when an educator earns a
certain number of course credits, advanced degrees or other types of continuing educational credits deemed  
eligible for the column increase in pay.  

The combination of COLA, step and column increases means most all teachers in the Thompson School District  
have increased their incomes during the past three years 9-10%.  Since the compensation rates for all three are
also subject to annual negotiation, Kerrigan was clearly referring to these increases and pay raises.  The TEA
argues these are not salary increases as the few most senior teachers, already at the top of their salary scales,
only received the 1.5% cost of living increase and no longer steps or columns.

Absent from the debate above regarding whether teachers have received increases are the numerous items
previous school boards granted in place of salary increases that are now taxing the school district budget
contributing to its current deficit spending.  Previous school boards voted to give a type of "golden parachute"
for all teachers  as a way to catch-up their income when they leave the district.  Today, all teachers leaving the
district who were paid according to Schedule A receive $54,000 over five years beginning on their date of
departure.  Some speculate this benefit could be a motive for some teachers who are taking positions
elsewhere to more quickly exploit the benefit which is a fixed amount and they can receive while working at
another school district.

New Contract Reflects National Trend

The impact of not increasing teacher pay scales while employees continue advancing through the steps and
columns is a top-heavy payroll as the more senior educators continue receiving annual increases while the first
step in pay for a new graduate remains stagnate.    Unable to balance the scale on an annual basis while a freeze
is in place, districts across the country have been grappling with the resulting inability to attract new teachers
into the profession while also having to explain the disparity in pay for performing essentially the same job.

According to one tenured California educator, Christian Chacon, the steps are warranted because that educator
becomes more capable of controlling a classroom over time but the benefits to the column (continuing
education) compensation are more dubious since the direct benefit to the students is not as obvious.  In some
California school districts the "steps" or annual automatic salary increases are now limited at lower grades
where an abundance of new teachers are competing for positions.

Florida high school teacher, Mary Kate Griffith, says teaching in a "performance pay" state requires teachers to  
focus more on student achievement [instead of steps and columns] which can be difficult depending on the
students' desire to learn.   Griffith said she tells her students they "deserve an education" but like many
teachers complains discipline of unruly students takes away too much instructional time that could be
benefiting the better behaved.

The TSD newly approved contract for teachers addresses the inequity of a steps and column system against
starting teachers by collapsing years 1-3 into year four.  This means, essentially, the step differential is being
eliminated for years 1-4 recognizing they are all essentially performing the same job.  

This raises the beginning salary for starting teachers from a previous base salary of $32,814 to  a minimum of
$35,338 annually across TSD.  This is a range also competitive with surrounding school districts.  In the steps
and columns pay schedule, the beginning teacher for the upcoming school year will be paid $35,338 to $42,622
beginning salary depending on their education level.  Below is the top and bottom of the schedule for beginning
teachers reflecting the newly made changes for 2014/15 school year.

                                                                             Column (lowest)                Column (highest)
0 years of experience Step 4    Salary        $35,338                                $42,622
1 years of experience Step 4    Salary        $35,338                                $42,622
2 years of experience Step 4    Salary        $35,338                                $42,622
3 years of experience Step 4    Salary        $35,338                                $42,622
4 years of experience Step 5    Salary        $36,221                                $43,687

Historically, the problem faced by the Thompson School Board has been an inability to increase base teacher
pay without the scale adjustment flowing through to all licensed employees across the district as demanded by
the teacher's union (Thompson Educational Association) thus costing millions of dollars.  Using the same pay
scale, a modest percentage increase in the base salary for $32,000 of perhaps 3% would only cost the district
approximately $1,000 annually before adding the increase tax withholding and benefits adjustments.

Looking at the top end of the same salary schedule B for TSD,  a teacher with more years of service and
advanced degrees earning $73,681 annually creates a different outcome.  A 3% salary increase would result in
a $2,210 annual increase in pay costing TSD double.   Given the current union contract, both of these teachers
could be performing exactly the same job (3rd grade class for example) for the district but the more tenured
and educated teacher receives more than double the salary of his or her younger colleague.  Nonetheless, the
teacher's union asked for an across the board increase in pay beginning at 2.5% which exceeds the district's
already deficit spending budget.

The younger teachers are less likely to join the teacher's union (which draws money from teacher paychecks
through the district's payroll) while a tenured educator is almost always a contributing member of the union.  
This disparity means the union negotiators are speaking for a constituency of mostly the tenured educators
while the beginning educators (the majority of whom do not join the union in their first year) have no direct
representation at the table.  This dynamic has resulted in school districts like Thompson School District placing
the demands of more tenured educators ahead of people entering the profession when negotiating
employment contracts.  

Other Contract Changes

1. Early-out Wednesdays were eliminated requiring more contact time for students with
teachers each week.  Six additional days added for teacher preparation/evaluation

2. Block schedules in high schools have been terminated, resulting in all full time
teachers being required to teach a full day instead of some only part time.

3. Increase in pay for substitutes and temporary teachers

4.  Across the board salary increases of 1.5% on average

5.  End to practice of paying union president's salary while doing union organizing and
not teaching

The next important vote will be the annual budget vote in June when the non-union district employees will
find out how much of an increase they will receive.  Generally, the board of education closely follows pay
increases for the licenced staff, at least cost of living, meaning the balance of employees can expect the 1.5%

Please feel free to add any comments or questions to our blog (link in upper right corner of this page)
New Contract For Teachers Reflects
New Leadership on School Board

1. Early-out Wednesdays eliminated
requiring more contact time for students
with teachers each week.  Six additional
days added for teacher
preparation/evaluation annually.

2. The block schedule in high school was
eliminated forcing high school teachers
to maintain full time hours in order to
receive full time pay.

3. Increase in pay for substitutes and
temporary teachers

4.  Across the board salary increases of
1.5% on average

5.  Significant increase in pay for
teachers in first 4 years of education

6.  End practice of paying union
president's salary while doing union
organizing and not teaching
(see section below)

President’s Release Time

5-5-1. Thompson School District will
support release time for the Thompson
Education Association president as follows:

- A minimum of half time release for      TEA
president with TEA
reimbursing the
district the cost of release  time salary,
PERA and insurance benefits of the
elected president’s scheduled salary

- TSD will retain the TEA president on full
salary, PERA and insurance benefit
schedule for the duration of  the contract.

- TEA president will receive all salary and
step schedule increases with PERA  and
insurance benefit privileges as negotiated
for the contract period.

- TEA will have the right to increase the
release time president with the
understanding that reimbursement of
salary, PERA, and benefits to the
district will reflect stated equivalent release
of the elected president’s
schedule salary position. TEA will notify the
district of any increase in
release time no later than May 1st
of each year.

- Additional days of leave will be granted
provided they are mutually agreed upon by
the Association and the Superintendent.
The district will provide cost coverage for
such days.