First Teacher Strike in PA Underway

Member Group : Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania

August 21, 2014:

Summer is drawing to a close but instead of returning to school students in the Millville Area School District are getting a little extra time off. The local teachers’ union went on strike on August 20, the first day of school. As we have previously noted, Pennsylvania leads the nation in teachers’ strikes. Starting a new school year off with a strike is hopefully not a sign of things to come.

The main point of contention between the district and the teachers’ union is salary and cost sharing for benefits costs; this is nothing new. Most teacher strikes revolve around the same issue.

What many people do not realize is that a teacher’s pay has nothing to do with supply and demand or market pricing. Instead, pay is a function of a complicated step and continuing education formula. That is a significant problem when it comes to attracting quality teachers; particularly in math and science. If a school district in Colorado is a sign of things to come, then we may see a change for the better. From The Federalist:

"Seated at a conference table in [Superintendent Liz] Fagen’s office, [human resources director Brian] Cesare ran his finger down a chart, noting that Douglas County hires for 72 distinct positions, and all require different training and skills, yet its union contract forbade recognizing that reality when attracting applicants. Open positions for elementary ed were always flooded with applicants, but school principals were lucky to get one applicant for a special-education opening…

"Since there was no market data available, Cesare tried to triangulate using what else he could find. He started calling principals and asking them to rank their job openings, from easiest-to-fill positions to hardest. In 2012, Douglas County unveiled a new pay scale with five salary ranges, or "bands." Each of the district’s 72 positions fit into one band. In the bottom pay bracket were positions such as second- through fifth-grade teachers and physical education teachers. They can earn between $32,000 and $60,000 annually in base pay (which doesn’t include performance bonuses). The top bracket includes speech pathologists and school psychologists. They can earn between $45,000 and $94,000 in base pay.

"2012 was the first year Douglas County had more applicants than special education positions. The next year, the district had enough information to expand the pay scale to six bands. Cesare thinks they can soon field ten."

The Douglas County model is not only a way to attract more people to teach high demand subjects. It is also a fantastic illustration of the influence that a school board can have on education policy.

Keep that this story in mind when the time comes for candidates for school board to get on the ballot in 2015.