The highest-paid teacher in Missoula County Public Schools earned more than $92,000 for the 2012-13 academic year, while the lowest-paid first-year teacher earned slightly more than $32,000.
Veteran school board trustee Shelly Wills was stunned to learn about the discrepancy in pay and tried to stop the MCPS board from approving a 3 percent raise for teachers at the June 11 board meeting.
Her reasoning, she said, was that she wanted teachers’ contracts “cracked open a little bit more” before awarding teachers more money.
Wills said she wanted to know more about the pay range, who earned the lowest and highest salaries, and was under the impression that despite negotiated base salaries, some teachers could earn upward of a 16 percent raise.
Her comments and lack of understanding of the process prompted a quick tutorial on the subject from other, more-seasoned trustees, startled some of the newly elected trustees and elicited a promise from district administrators that they would explain in detail whatever salary and budget questions she needed answers to at a June 25 budget session.
Urged to have faith in the district’s negotiating team by the teachers union representatives, Wills’ move to table the pay raise failed and the negotiated increase was approved.
Despite the lack of support, Wills’ questions have prompted MCPS administrators to prepare a thorough explanation of teachers’ salaries and how they can move up the pay scale at this week’s budget meeting.
That a longtime school teacher earns more than $92,000 is the exception, not the rule, Steve McHugh, MCPS director of human resources, said last week while preparing for the meeting.
Salaries for Missoula teachers vary greatly depending on years of experience, the amount of ongoing educational credits a teacher has accumulated, extra teaching duties, and if a teacher has a bachelor’s or master’s degree, he said.
In the case of the $92,000-a-year teacher, that teacher has taught in the district since 1987, has achieved a master’s degree and the highest amount of credits possible to earn the highest salary possible.
The teacher also instructs drivers education after school and during the summer.
This teacher, McHugh explained, essentially works two jobs, and the driver’s education instruction, which students pay to participate in, is a self-supporting program that pays the teacher.
Aside from this unusual situation, teachers do have an opportunity to earn above and beyond their salaries if they take on extra duties.
An example, McHugh explained, is if a teacher becomes the head coach of a sports team, or directs a band or chorus, or leads other afterschool activities such as DECA or drama club.
In the case of a head coaching position or band director, teachers can earn around $4,975 for taking on those duties, he said.
McHugh further explained why Wills was wrongly informed that teachers could earn upward of a 16 percent raise.
Raises to a teacher’s base salary can only come from annual negotiations with the teachers union.
Salary increases, which are not tied to pay raises, are possible if a teacher is motivated to earn more college-level teaching credits or get a master’s degree, he said. Teachers also earn a higher salary for each year they stay and work in the district.
For example, a brand new teacher starting out in Missoula County Public Schools with a bachelor’s degree during the 2012-13 academic year earned $32,517.
If that teacher acquired an additional 10 credits or more before the start of the next school year, because of MCPS’ “steps and lanes” salary matrix, that person’s salary would increase to $34,615 to reflect the person’s additional education and the experience of being a second-year teacher.
That person, he said, has chosen to climb the district’s pay ladder by taking it upon themselves to get more college-level educational credits.
If the district negotiated a pay raise, as it did this year, and agreed to a 3 percent raise to the base salary for the 2013-14 academic year, all salaries will increase by that amount.
So in this same scenario, the base salary for an entry level teacher with a bachelor’s degree will be $33,492 for the coming school year. If that teacher earns an additional 10 credits, the base salary for that teacher’s second year will be $35,653.
With the 3 percent raise, teachers’ salaries for the 2013-14 year will range from $33,492 earned by entry-level teachers in their first year of teaching to the top salary, which is capped at $69,866 for veteran teachers who have worked in the district for 23 years or more and who hold a master’s degree plus 30 additional educational credits.
Salaries for mid-career teachers who have 12 years of experience, hold a bachelor’s degree and received 30 additional educational credits will be $50,094. Someone with 12 years of experience and a master’s degree will earn $55,536.
“We have a pay scale that encourages more education for teachers, because there are pay freezes at certain levels,” McHugh said.
For example, if a teacher decides to not pursue more education beyond a bachelor’s degree, after seven years of teaching, that person’s salary would be capped at $42,329 should there be no negotiated pay raise to the base salaries.
A person with a master’s degree but no additional learning would, after 11 years on the job, have a salary capped at $55,536.
When contacted last week to further discuss her concerns about teachers’ salaries and how the district funds those salaries, Wills declined to comment and referred all questions to board chairman Joe Knapp.
While Knapp did not know all of Wills’ concerns about the matter, he believed her questions have provided a good learning opportunity for the board, which has five new members.
“Teachers’ pay is complicated and there are many moving parts and multiple pieces to the steps and lanes and how negotiated salary increases affect those,” Knapp said.
“There is an awful lot of confusion in this area and it makes sense to take a good look at it, understand it and clarify things.”
Given that almost 90 percent of the district’s budget goes to employee salaries and benefits, it is critical that the board has a good handle on the inflow and outflow of funding, he said.
“Are we doing as good a job in the pay and compensation of our teachers, given budget constraints? Are there other ways to look at it? Those are the questions on the table and with so many new board members it is a good time to look at this,” he said. “I do know that we will be revisiting a lot of different things and policies because of the new board.”