A Way Out of the School Problem

Wages and Benefits are out of control. We must confront the teachers union and make the changes that make students the winners. With substantial change of how schools are run a $50 million local levy would easily pass.

The salary schedule for Portland is not much different than others but Portland spends far more on salaries because the bulk of the teachers are in the top brackets. The shrinking number of students and blind seniority promotion has left too many high priced teachers. Portland is top heavy.

The public doesn’t and shouldn’t care. The district spends more per student than others so bring these costs down. Not everyone doing programming can be paid as a Master Programmer. Companies allot so many positions of each rank and that is it. For the sake of the children we must make some drastic changes.

The administration understands the problem. Over the last 10 years the district has offered retirement bonuses, sometimes as high as $25,000, to get these senior teachers to retire. This coupled with the problem that new teachers often quit in the early years point the way to a solution.

Pay should not be so strongly related to seniority and raises not stretched out over 12 years. It is hard to hire new teachers and you lose many of those in the early years. More starting pay would make hiring easier and faster increases stop the early losses. Big increases in the lower brackets could be paid for with smaller reductions in the top brackets. Instead of starting teachers at less than $33,000 per year and paying the top at $65,500 you could change these amounts to $42,000 to start and $60,000 at the top and spend no more total dollars. With 12 weeks of paid vacation you would still keep the jobs full.

Other changes suggest themselves. Our school year is too short. I would have little sympathy for complaints if paid vacations were cut to 9 weeks and the children got a longer 190 day school year. And as long as were about it, with the local option levy and new fringe benefits dropped to 25% of salary-still above almost all private companies-we could hire 400 additional teachers and reduce average class sizes to less than 15.

This will not make me popular with Portland Teachers. To get a different perspective ask yourself or your employer how he sets his limits on salaries. Rates are set high enough to hire good people and topped out high enough to keep them. These suggested changes would certainly make hiring easy, and I doubt that teachers earning $60,000 a year with 25% fringe benefits and 9 weeks of paid vacation would find lots of job offers. Other districts are going to be leery of hiring at the top lest they get in Portland’s predicament. This rate is still the top at private schools and is a rich total package in the private sector. If the senior teachers did leave it would probably be to retire, and without having to pay a retirement bonus.

This would be tough medicine, but hiring fresh sharp teachers, a longer school year and much smaller classes would be worth it. Let’s be bold and make changes that make our students the winners.