Monday: Part I. Time Flows Only One Direction
Tuesday: Part II. A Brief Critique of Neo-Liberal Compensation Reform
Wednesday: Part III. Synthesis and Solutions
Part I. Time Flows Only One Direction
The single salary schedule is the most common system for organizing the compensation of teachers. It rewards for two things: longevity and education. A teacher receives a raise for each year of service (step increases) and a raise for achieving certain educational benchmarks, such as graduate credits and Masters degrees (column increases.) It emerged during the Progressive era, some 94 years ago, to solve certain problems in education. It promoted equity between teachers of different races and genders. It rationalized compensation, and was used to take favoritism out of the equation.
In order to work the single salary schedule had to be tied to two other mechanisms: tenure and seniority. Tenure is due process, the idea that civil servants should only be terminated for just cause, in other words for issues related to performance. Teachers gain tenure when they attain the right to due process, usually after certain number of years and satisfactory evaluations. Prior to attaining tenure, teachers are "at will employees;" they can be terminated for any reason or for no reason. Seniority is "last in, first out" which prevents veteran teachers from being terminated in favor of younger, cheaper workers. Without tenure and seniority, the single salary schedule is functionally meaningless.
There is another issue that further complicates the picture: defined benefit pensions. Pensions are part of an overall benefit phenomenon - public sector employees have historically traded higher salaries for better benefits. With pensions, teachers trade salary for income after retirement. Teachers contribute a percentage of salary to the pension system and the government also makes a contribution. Actuaries make recommendations for funding the system, which, in an ideal world, policy makers and legislators are supposed to follow.
This is a deferred compensation system. Teachers are paid peanuts early in their careers on the promise of a middle class salary later in their careers, along with good benefits and a dignified retirement. Due process and seniority are the glue that hold the system together: without a reasonable expectation that they can last long enough in their jobs to receive their top level salaries and pensions, the single salary schedule would be a cruel joke.
It is also a social contract. Government benefits by being able to defer costs into the future, and still have a stable, well educated work force in schools, essentially trading the future for short term benefits. Teachers benefit by having stable employment and clear, understandable rules governing compensation and retirement. They trade salary in the short term for long term benefit.
Historically, the single salary schedule has functioned as designed. A large population of career educators has stuck around, and has acquired additional training and education. They have paid every penny they owed by statute into the pension system. Teachers have kept their part of the bargain in this vast social contract and invested their very lives in it. Teachers cannot take back the years. There are no do-overs for veteran educators. Time only flows one direction.