U46 big-district status doesn’t equal big salaries
Students walk past Reavis High School, 6033 W. 77th St., on their way to register for fall classes, Thursday, August 2, 2012, in Burbank. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
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Updated: September 10, 2012 1:36PM
If you want to take home Illinois’ top dollar in teacher pay over time, don’t head to Chicago, where beginning salaries start out strong but fade in the stretch.
Don’t even head to tony Winnetka or Lincolnshire — nor even the state’s second-largest district, Elgin’s School District U46.
Instead, head straight to the near southwest suburbs. Blue-collar Burbank. Working-class Summit. Middle-class Oak Lawn.
A pocket of suburbs southwest of Chicago — some of them kissing the city’s border — have a blue-chip salary schedule that rewards starting teachers as well as the most veteran, highly credentialed ones with some of the steepest teacher pay in the state. Their beginning and ending teacher salaries are among the top 15 in Illinois.
The compensation surpasses even what is paid in Winnetka and Lincolnshire, where bottom and top scales are nothing to weep about, coming in among the top 25 in the state.
The starting salaries for teachers in U46 don’t even reach the top 25 percent. A starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree made $39,349 last year, a salary that ranked No. 228 among the 868 school districts in Illinois.
But with more education comes not only better salaries but some better rankings for the Elgin-based school district among the salaries that comparable teachers earn in districts across the state.
A starting teacher with a master’s degree netted $46,430 in U46, ranking 134; and a veteran with the same degree was paid $83,903, ranking No. 187 in the state. Top salary for a U46 teacher was $96,114, ranking somewhat higher at No. 163.
U46 Chief of Staff Tony Sanders noted the district’s teachers union, the Elgin Teachers Association, had agreed to a one-year pay freeze last school year. They since have emerged from lengthy negotiations with “a very reasonable salary agreement,” Sanders said.
“The teachers union and our teachers understand the economy in which we live,” he said.
Comparatively, new teachers earned a bit more in nearby Community Unit School District 300.
A beginning teacher in the Carpentersville-based district with a bachelor’s ranked 140 ($41,581) in Illinois, and top salary at No. 125 ($101,517). A beginner with a master’s in District 300 came in close to his or her peers in U46, at No. 192; but a veteran with the same degree fell off to No. 357.
Chicago Public Schools, meantime, starts out strong for beginning teachers but falls over the long haul — a “front loading” phenomenon one expert said risks turning Chicago into a “farm system” for districts that pay better long term.
A starting CPS teacher with a bachelor’s degree pulled down a salary that ranked No. 16 statewide this past school year, at $50,577. Not bad. A rookie with a master’s: No. 30. But top salary for a veteran with a master’s: a drop to No. 140.
The big surprise: The top amount a Chicago teacher can earn is only $95,887. That’s a further tumble to No. 167 statewide, below both Districts 300 and U46.
No other district among the top 30 in starting pay had such a sharp decline in salary rank by the time a teacher reached top scale.
Those are some of the results of a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of teacher pay schedules in Illinois school districts for this past school year, based on data provided by the Illinois State Board of Education. Districts are required to include all pension contributions in the salary schedules they give the state.
Overall, high-school-only districts tend to outpace elementary-only or “unit” districts such as U46 and 300 that include both elementary and high school teachers, according to ISBE data.
The standout district was Reavis Township High School District 220, home to only one school — Reavis High in blue-collar Burbank. There, starting teacher salary with a bachelor’s degree was No. 1 in the state, at $55,091. Add a master’s for a rookie: No. 4. Top possible master’s pay: No. 3. Top overall: No. 4, at $132,942.
The industry and commercial businesses around Burbank allow Reavis to generate the taxes to support more lucrative salaries, Superintendent Daniel Riordan said. The district includes a FedEx regional office and a railroad company.
Many districts in Illinois have so-called “longevity” bonuses. Those kick in after “steps” — which bring increased pay with each year of experience — top out. The bonuses allow veteran teachers to get flat pay raises every few years.
Sanders said many districts similar in size and demographics to the Elgin school district “really felt the effect of the economic downturn.”
“It was kind of a double whammy because local property tax revenues weren’t going up, while the state was in such poor financial shape,” he said. “That really hurt some districts like ours. ... We don’t have any cash reserves waiting in a backroom.”
Officials at some districts intentionally used a “front loaded” strategy for years, figuring they would “attract people at the lower end of the salary scale, and then when they got more expensive, a bunch would leave and they could replace them with cheaper ones,” said Richard Ingersoll, a University of Pennsylvania education professor whose research has explored issues involving the teacher workplace and teacher turnover.
“What was not recognized by those districts is that having a revolving door of teachers is not cost-free. Constantly having to rehire, to replace leaving teachers, is expensive.”
However, economist and education finance expert Eric Hanushek of Stanford University said front-loading may not be a bad idea.
Texas data he examined indicated teachers who stayed in a district were about as effective as those who left.
“Texas districts were losing some good teachers but were also losing some bad teachers,” he said. “It would not make sense to raise the salaries of all teachers in the district in order to stop the few good teachers who were leaving.”
On average, teachers with five years’ experience are just as effective, in terms of student test score gains, as teachers with 25 years’ experience, Hanushek said.
“None of these places are paying for performance, so you can compete with them if you want, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your student achievement will be better.”
Staff writer Emily McFarlan contributed to this story.