Reform the 96 wage brackets of teachers

By Richard Leonetti,
Oregon Taxpayer Foundation

With the same money, and a sensible wage policy, Portland could have more teachers instead of layoffs. Portland now pays beginning school teachers too little. Portland also pays school teachers higher fringe benefits than they can afford. The school district budgets $102,603 average cost per teacher which explains the upcoming layoffs and why Portland school costs are so much higher than all other metro districts.

How? Take the current 96 wage brackets and reduce them to three: a beginning teacher would be paid $50,000, the great middle $60,000 and the best 30% would become Master Teachers earning $70,000 per year. We have to lower fringe benefits. For retirement, pay up to a 6% match of what the teacher contributes to the new PERS 401k type plan. Health insurance would be held to $800 per month with any excess picked up by the teacher. And as long as we are at it there would only be six weeks of paid vacation.

This is a very hard nosed, but generous, offer. Some teachers might choose to retire rather than accept it, but we would not loose teachers to private schools who pay less nor would the great majority be able to match this in the private sector. For most teachers, and especially the newer ones, this would be a wage increase with still better fringe benefits than the private sector.

For the children this would be a big win. Smaller class sizes, and because of only 6 weeks paid vacation, a 220 day school year instead of the short 175 days we now have would assure better educational results than we now get. All this would take is a school board, a superintendent and parents who care enough about the kids to compare this offer to the rest of the world and insist that it happen.

No parents should settle for layoffs when other options are available.

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 23 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • a retired professor

    “This is a very hard nosed, but generous, offer. Some teachers might choose to retire rather than accept it”

    I suspect the teachers and their unions will think of other alternatives than the ones on offer here!

    • Anonymous

      To our bad, you are correct and it won’t be good for the students, nor the teachers for that matter

      • rural resident

        Why is it that the only things that are ever “good for kids” are the things conservatives want? According to the Repubs, teachers and other educational professionals know nothing about kids or how to teach. How pretentious on your part.

        • Rupert in Springfield

          >How pretentious on your part.

          How can it be pretentious when it is born out by most peoples experience and is a widely held and common view?

          If you went out and grabbed ten people in the street and asked them if the schools were better now than 10, 20, 30 40 years ago I doubt you could get more than two in ten who would say schools were better.

          What about belief in education as a profession? Well, there is hardly a lot of confidence that the people there know much, or know better than the average person. After all, home schooling is on the rise and most people are aware of this. Most people are also very much aware that home schooled kids regularly outperform public school kids. So again, not much evidence of the public having a lot of faith in professional educators really knowing a lot more than most.

          So what does that add up to?

          Well, for one it adds up to the antithesis of a pretentious view. Indeed would appear to be a commonly held view that public schools are failing.

          Pretentious? Nope. Reality? Yep.

          • Steve Plunk

            Rupert, rural resident fails to recognize it’s been the liberals who have for decades decried the state of public education to get more funds but have installed policies that make things worse. If they haven’t fixed the schools in 40 years why should we trust them and their ideas now? Every few years education progressives come out with new experiment to try on kids which usually fails. You don’t get your PhD writing a dissertation supporting traditional methods but rather advocating new and exciting ones. As a result we get crappy ideas.

          • rural resident

            I hate to break it to you, Steve, but the conservatives haven’t done such a great job fixing the problem when they were in charge, either. Maybe it’s just a really, really, difficult problem to solve.

          • Steve Plunk

            I’ll agree with you there. I think the teachers union and even the teachers themselves have something to do with that. Throw in spooled children and spoiled parents to make things worse.

            To me the solution lies in conservative thinking but in the past the conservatives have caved in on too many issues.

          • Rupert in Springfield

            Well, I think that the idea that conservatives have been in charge of the education system is really a little loopy.

            If someone can find me evidence of the NEA, OEA or whatever segment of teachers unions that you care to name have backed the conservative candidate anywhere, Id be glad to revise my opinion. If it has been done on any widespread basis I would be glad to totally change my opinion. However I doubt it.

            I personally have never been on a college campus (I went), nor faculty party (had partners that were) nor grouping of public school teachers (have several friends who are, both k-12 and community college), who have been anything but liberals. I have met one professor at one faculty party that I would call conservative and precious few others. Liberal politics and thinking predominates overwhelmingly both in what I observe personally and what is evidenced nationally in terms of political endorsement.

            In addition it has generally not been my experience that unions are not exactly conservative organizations. Let’s not kid ourselves, unions run the schools.

            Conservatives deserve the blame or share the blame for plenty of things. The failure of our education system is not one of them.

          • Rupert in Springfield

            >Maybe it’s just a really, really, difficult problem to solve.

            More like some have a vested interest in making it appear so.

            Our education system used to be the leading public education system in the world. We also set up school systems in other countries, most notably post war Japan, which regularly outperform us having had no prior history of doing so.

            A problem can hardly be difficult to solve if one at one time had the answer.

            A problem also cannot be difficult to solve when others have solved the exact same problem.

            Such is the case now.

            Public schools are the lowest performers of our three modes of K-12 education: public, private and home school.

            Private schools outperform public schools – therefore we know that teacher pay is not linked to the problem. Teacher pay in real dollars has increased for public schools and teachers at private schools make far less.

            Home schooled kids out perform public school kids – so therefore we know that formal education in educating is probably a lot less important than knowledge of subject matter and care for the job. Knowledge of the subject matter is fairly easy – someone with a bachelors degree in math probably knows more math than someone with a degree in education.

            So we know some of what works and some of what doesn’t.

            Do we have a solution at hand?

            Sure, we have voucher programs that would let kids go to private school. That works well. Public schools being our most expensive form of education and least effective means voucher programs could be run at a net cost savings to the taxpayer.

            What else?

            Well, there have been plenty of notable offers from private schools to run pilot programs, with public school administrators choosing the kids for the program so as to provide the ultimate test. Public school system obviously reject these offers out of hand as they have nothing to gain.

            What else?

            We also have the experience of charter schools. They get 80% of the funding per student of public schools and still do a better job. Let the kids go to whatever charter school they want, stop assigning schools. If a school stinks and all the kids leave, fine, a bunch of people will have to find other work. I would be happy to stand outside the doors and welcome those who could not teach to the world of reality – where sometimes you lose your job.

            So no, the problem is actually fairly easy to solve.

            Whats hard to solve is a different problem – the fact that our schools are there as jobs programs for teachers first, education second.

            Everyone knows this, no one wants to confront it. This is why teachers unions will forever fight merit pay and school choice. They don’t want and cannot afford the competition.

            We simply need to change the priorities.

            Here would be another way to do it that would result in no public school teacher losing there job, have less work to do and on top of it get a huge raise.

            Sound too good to be true? It isn’t, and its really easy.

            Step one – initiate a voucher program.

            Step two – set the voucher to $7,000 per year on average per student (adjust by grade) This amount is roughly 70% of what Oregon spends per student.

            Step three – Students take voucher and go to school of their choice, $7k being enough to make a significant contribution or pay outright for private school.

            Step four – take the remaining $3k per student the public school system gets to keep and simply throw it at the teachers.

            This results in an immediate 30% or so funding increase per student in school funding for every kid that leaves public school.

            The public school teachers et. al. get to throw money at the problem which is what they love, the kids get to leave and get an education, parents don’t get bankrupted but still have a small financial stake thus assuring involvement.

            So there ya go – zero additional cost – guaranteed results, could be implemented over the course of one summer break.

            That’s about as simple as it gets.

          • rural resident

            “Reality? Yep.”


            Grabbing people off the street and asking them if the schools were better some years ago is stupid and pointless. I love it when we ask random people to spew on about subjects they know little or nothing about, and then treat the collective “wisdom” as though it’s actually worth something. Few people actually know what goes on in the schools, unless you happen to work there.

            In one of Harry Kemelman’s “Rabbi” books, the rabbi teaches a university class in Judaism and encounters students who want to have class discussions before they have concepts and a vocabulary to work with. He refers to this as a “pooling of ignorance.” Sounds like what we get from the public about education.

            It’s interesting that you just gave four time periods–10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago–when people were also complaining about how terrible the schools were. There’s a common tendency to don rose-colored glasses when thinking about the past. The milk shakes were thicker and frostier, cars were built better, the summers were warmer, people were more polite, the schools were better, etc. . . .

            Do schools have problems now? Of course they do. They always have and will. You’re dealing with a massive institution that interacts with almost everybody within a 13-year age span. There is an ongoing tension between the idea that schools should be economically efficient and that they should be effective for all kids. Prisons aren’t, and their charge is much easier.

            The dropout rates are bad, but they look worse because we actually count everybody now. In the “good old days,” some kids dropped out after the eighth grade. We didn’t tend to pay much attention when special education students didn’t graduate. Nobody expected them to. Now we do. The same was too often true of minority students.

            The biggest problem now is meddling on the part of too many people who aren’t familiar with the schools and what goes on there. Pandering politicians almost always do more harm than good, as do grandstanding “social commentators.” And now, in the 24/7 cable news/talking head media environment, every time a school suspends a student for so much as mouthing off, it goes viral. In the “good old days,” nobody knew about it except those at the school.

            We can make the product better by doing some small things that society probably isn’t willing to do (more teacher control over classroom discipline, according teachers some status and respect that they’ve never had in any time period in U. S. history) and some big things that they definitely aren’t willing to do (making secondary school schedules more like college schedules with students assuming greater responsibility for time management, wholesale changes in educational technology and physical facilities, greatly expanding the number of adult aides in classrooms, eliminating interscholastic athletics, tracking in schools). Since the most we’re willing to do is tinker around the edges with things like more basic skills testing, “merit” pay (which is really “kiss up to the administrators” pay), and charter schools, things aren’t really going to change much.

            Having spent about 30 years in teaching and other parts of education, I realize that I don’t have all the answers–or even all the questions. But then, I’m not as fortunate as you are, Rupert, to be the world’s foremost authority on every subject in the universe.

          • Rupert in Springfield

            >Grabbing people off the street and asking them if the schools were better some years ago is stupid and pointless.

            Well, except for the fact that it proves you wrong in what I was contending, which you miss by the way.

            You tried to insult everyone and completely misused the word you tried to do it with. I never addressed whether that opinion was true or not, just that if an opinion is widely held and commonly expressed it is hardly pretentious to voice it, regardless of ones party.

            >Having spent about 30 years in teaching and other parts of education,

            Well, if it was in Debate Club, Rhetoric or English that would start to explain Oregon’s high unemployment rate.

            >I’m not as fortunate as you are, Rupert, to be the world’s foremost authority on every subject in the universe.

            I never thought of myself as fortunate to understand the meaning of a common word. I kind of consider that just basic paying attention in school.

            Seeing someone completely misuse a word they are trying to insult others with in a totally uncalled for manner is something I find funny. Just colour me gleeful.

        • a retired professor

          Actually, except perhaps in Portland — I don’t know the facts there, I’ll take their word for it here, but I’m dubious — $50K starting salary plus the pension plan described plus medical insurance would be a great deal, much better than most starting teachers in Oregon are getting! The pension benefits for new teachers are not that great.

          • Veritas

            Good point

  • paul

    _Beginning_ teachers making $50,000 a year when experienced teachers in private schools make less than half that? What would make a teacher who is making that kind of money want to teach in a private school? Maybe for the love of teaching rather than the paycheck? Just asking.

    • Rupert in Springfield

      >What would make a teacher who is making that kind of money want to teach in a private school?

      Almost nothing, and in my experience public school teachers do not leave to teach in private school, nor would the private school really want them, It simply would be a bad match.

      However there are plenty of reason why someone would chose to teach in private school over public, even though private means far less pay.

      One – Private school teachers in top flight schools often dont look at it as a career. They can often be doing the job either as supplemental income or can be doing it as a transitioning job. In my experience, many will teach will finishing up a dissertation or that sort of thing. This means you are getting way more qualified people but who really look at it as a 5-10 thing, not 30-40. Are these teachers inexperienced? Hardly, grad school gives one plenty of that.

      Two – Private school teachers may often have to deal with larger class sizes but the students are far more motivated. There simply is less disruption since the teacher and the school have far more authority.

      Three – Parental involvement. The default in private school is heavy parental involvement whereas in public school the default is the opposite. Why is this so? Simple – if mommy and daddy are forking over even a token sum (say if a child is on scholarship) they pay a hell of a lot more attention than when something is “free”.

      Four – Independence. Private school is about the individual, public school is about the group. Many people value this difference. If you are a public school teacher you have little independence in what or how you teach compared to a private school teacher. A private school teacher will also be paid more on merit whereas a public school teachers ability has nothing to do with their pay.

      We see this behavior in all sorts of fields, there is no reason to think teaching would be any different. Plenty of people prefer to be paid on merit rather than seniority and thus chose not to join a union even though there may be one available for their profession. Some people value independence and individualism over money and security. For the latter their are unions. For the former, we see no end of people who prefer a non unionized work environment. Indeed, most of us probably know more people who prefer this sort environment to the unionized one. Why would teachers be any different?

  • Rupert in Springfield

    At some point Oregon will have to address school cost. There is simply no reason to be paying what we are for schools and getting the results we are getting.

    Oregon school systems in general need to present teachers with a more realistic contract proposal. This will mean a pay cut to something a little more in line with both reality as well as the teachers performance. It should certainly mean eliminating the seniority system, which is absolutely absurd.

    Would all the teachers quit?

    Who knows. Were they to do so then vouchers could be issued for half the amount otherwise spent on the student. This could then be used for whatever private or parochial school one wanted.

    It would be win win. The kids would get a better education and the state would spend half the money.

    Whats the other side of the win?

    Well, the other half of the money, that not spent on the voucher, could be used to establish the vaunted rainy day fund.

    The way I see it, teachers unions and state emplyee unions in general every year are out with their ads asking everyone to sacrifice for them. The last round we got of it was in measure 66/67.

    Well, maybe time for them to sacrifice instead of others. Instead of asking business to pay for the rainy day fund (the unions latest idea) why not have teachers pay for it?

    After all, no one could accuse anyone of being mean or unfair to teachers. Its simply asking of them what they would ask of others.

    • Mary’s Opinion

      Not all teachers fall into the despicable group you place them in. And many of them disagree with their union leaders. Why must teachers be held responsible for every aspect of a students success or failure, even what happens in a students home that causes him or her to fail at school?

      Polititians threaten teachers jobs if voters don’t anti up and the public beats up teachers because of their unions.

      No, I’m not a teacher.

  • Bob Clark

    I think we need to think much bigger change like increasing private school alternatives upwards towards 50% of the market, rather than continuing the dominance of the public, unionized school model. Competition will cause principles and teachers to bring their A game, and not just their C game.

  • rjr

    Why stop with just teachers? Multnomah jail guards make an average of $70,000 and with overtime, many make over $100,000. They have genorous PERS and paid in full health insurence for employee and family. Oh, and the educational requirement is GED. I don’t want to see their benefits reduced but your anger at pulic employees is selective. It is not unreasonable to have a living wage, a good retirement and health care. That is the American dream. If you don’t have similar benefits, get angry at your employer, not the teachers.

  • Ricky

    I have some better ideas.

    Change the school year to 245 days. Make the days 8 hours in length.
    Actually teach.

    Then payall the teachers $100K as long as their students learn by a proven third party assessment not designed in Salem.
    If they don’t get rid of them.

    Same for students – pass third party tests – do not go to next grade until you have.

    Cancel the union. Who needs a union if you make 100K or more?

    Pay $150K for subjects like AP chemistry, calculus, physics, etc.

    Get rid of phony classes like art appreciation and TV studies, careers, etc.

    Make sure kids know that college is not for everyone. Offer a complete range of courses that prepare students for jobs if they don’t intend to go to college (like North Clackamas does).

    Give tests that measure accurately the proficiency of any and all teachers.
    Kind of like if you want to be a CPA or a lawyer – you have to take and pass rigorous tests.
    Why is any different for teachers aside from the fact that most could not pass them?

    Done. Problem solved.

    Seem unrealistic? It only is because of the union.

    • a retired professor

      Uh, there might be the little problem of where the money would come from to pay the teachers $100 – $150K.

  • Mary’s Opinion

    Candidate Kitzhaber in a campaign statement says he will provide “early childhood education for every child in Oregon.” Does anyone know what that means and more importantly how he will pay for it?

  • John in Oregon

    I fear that solutions like this, effective or otherwise are just nibbling around the margins of the problem.

    retired professor, in an earlier thread you had said that the students coming into UO are little different from what they were 20 years ago. I wouldn’t question your assessment of incoming UO students. Mine probably wouldn’t be much different, although I do wonder about looking at the wider time span over say 40 or 50 years.

    My real worry is more the “lower achievers” ability to succeed in JC or Trade school environments and apprentice work programs. I haven’t seen any real indicator of success over time.

    Most worrisome are the large number of students, ranging around 40%, that never complete high school. That in its self is a sad commentary. I suspect that group has faced some profound changes.

    When I was in high school I wasn’t on the College path which was reserved for those that had the money and a few local scholarships. College loans, that was a second mortgage on the house and with four kids, not likely. Still I knew that education and knowledge was important, that anyone and everyone can succeed. That little quaint thing called the American Dream.

    I happened to run across an article in science news “High Imprisonment Rates Localized” by Bruce Bower. On the surface the article seems to be the typical soporific, Jail!! We can’t hold people responsible by putting them in jail or holding them accountable. The kind of approach found in the Multnomah Co. JV system. The article does contain some reasonable and potential successful options to jail.

    The finding that struck me however was that in some neighborhoods the incarceration rate would be low while in other similarly situated neighborhoods the rate was very high. The conclusion, incarceration in the US has a strong correlation to a relatively few local neighborhoods. Two thoughts that came to mind was sick buildings which are seldom related to physical conditions and perpetually falling schools.

    My interest was reinforced, looking further into the article. Robert Sampson the study author found within the high incarceration neighborhoods “intense cynicism about the legal system and hopelessness about future prospects among residents of the city’s incarceration hot spots.” … “Teenagers and children expressed some of the grimmest attitudes. ‘Many kids said they didn’t expect to live past age 25 or to avoid ending up in prison,’ Sampson said.”

    Quite a high level of fatalism in a young population.

    My experience as the grandson of a depression era family farmer was belief in the American dream, that anyone and everyone can succeed, that each generation will do better. Indeed that was what I saw as I worked full time while earning a college degree. As did each of my brothers and sisters.

    The dream was a zeitgeist, a shared spirit of the times, just as the expectation of no futures is in those few concentrated high incarceration neighborhoods.

    I connected that thought to the teacher certification requirement of social justice. Everyone gets a trophy even for last place work. The short definition of social justice is that student failure is imposed by the system from above, thus not the fault of the student. The students self esteem is increased.

    But, children catch on quickly. If failure is beyond their control then so also is success. Noting to dream about so why bother.

    retired proff, did you happen to read the Jack Curtis piece “Sorry But We Deserve Our Schools”? My first read was that Curtis presented a highly cynical prospective. My second read felt less so particularly in light of the administration steering loan and training funds away from apprentice and private trade schools in favor of government academic programs.

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