Schools offer raises, perks as they compete for teachers


Pay raises, performance incentives, catch-up pay and other perks have returned to local teacher contracts negotiated this year, a sign that the frugal stretch following the Great Recession has come to an end.

The vast majority of school districts in the area agreed to base pay increases of 2 to 3 percent per year, a Dayton Daily News examination found. But incentives vary wildly from district to district based on education level, attendance, state report card performance and district fiscal health.

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“The feeling we got was that between 2 and 2.5 percent was pretty much the median point of state (for annual base pay raises),” said Milton-Union Superintendent Brad Ritchey, whose district signed a two-year deal with 2.5 percent increases each year. “Number one, that’s fair. You’re not trying to make people accept a bad deal of whatever you can get away with. But it’s not extravagant.”

The Daily News review of new contracts shows districts and teachers unions got creative in some areas of their deals. For example:

  • In Piqua, teachers will get a 1.5 percent bonus if the district ends the year with more than 120 days worth of expenses in reserve.
  • In Vandalia-Butler, teachers can earn $200 to $800 per year for excellent to perfect attendance.
  • In Covington, the district pays 89 percent of the high-deductible medical insurance premium, while most other districts pay 80 to 85 percent.
  • In Bellbrook, retirement-eligible teachers with 20 years in the district can receive a retirement incentive of $10,000 to $30,000 depending on total experience.

Brookville Superintendent Tim Hopkins said with a decline in new teaching graduates, there’s heavy competition to attract and retain good people, especially in math, science and special education.

“For a 22-year-old who has college loans to pay off, the financial package may be the determining factor,” Hopkins said. “Then, if there are no geographic or family ties, you can lose them within the first couple of years if your salary and benefits are not competitive.”

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In most school districts, salaries and benefits make up 75 to 85 percent of annual expenses. So any significant increase on that front requires an increase in revenue. Recent years of full and partial pay freezes resulted in fewer districts asking for new operating levies in 2015 and 2016.

“School districts have no desire to be on the ballot asking residents for increased taxes,” Hopkins said. “At the same time, the key to effective classroom instruction is dependent upon providing high-quality teachers.”

Working conditions

Pay and benefits are a key to attracting good employees, but some districts use non-financial perks to do so.

Beavercreek and Fairborn are among the districts that put contractual caps on class size (no more than 25 in early grades), while Kettering specifies that teachers with more than 27 third-graders or 29 fifth-graders get a full-time aide.

Fairborn gives elementary teachers 300 minutes of non-teaching planning time per week, where several other districts are just over 200.

Vandalia-Butler allows non-resident teachers to enroll their children in district schools at no charge, as long as they had no attendance or discipline problems in their home district.

Dayton Public Schools teachers, whose negotiations stalled out this month, have focused on issues like those, using the rallying cry: “Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.”

Issues like intra-district transfer procedures and staffing school libraries have been topics of negotiations.

“With all the requirements that have been heaped on teachers by the state, teachers need an increased amount of planning time,” Dayton teachers union President David Romick said. “Teachers now have options. There are vacancies all over the place because of the retirement bubble the last few years. Teachers are taking those options. They can afford to be selective and go where it’s a good fit for them.”

Step raises a key issue

Base pay raises will be between 2 and 3 percent each year in most new contracts reviewed by the newspaper, mirroring statewide figures, according to Van Keating, senior staff attorney for the Ohio School Boards Association.

Outliers were Centerville, whose raises will be 3.5, 3.5 and 3.375 percent; Vandalia-Butler, whose three-year deal includes one year with no raise; and Eaton, whose complicated deal actually lowered base pay levels by nearly $2,000 but reinstated five years of frozen step raises for existing staff.

“Step raises” are separate from base pay raises, providing wage increases tied to increasing years of service and levels of education. In most schools, teachers receive a step raise ranging from $500 to $2,500 each of their first 10-15 years, then one step raise every 3-5 years after that. Teachers can earn similar steps if they earn a certain number of post-graduate credits, or an advanced degree.

Details vary from district to district. Steps for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree are generally $1,500 per year in Covington, $1,700 in Carlisle, $1,900 in Bellbrook and $2,075 in Beavercreek.

In Brookville, once a teacher starts his or her 17th year, the contract calls for only two more step raises, after years 20 and 27, totaling about $3,000. But Centerville’s contract would give that teacher raises of more than $3,000 each after their 19th, 23rd, 27th, 31st and 34th years in the district – a difference of tens of thousands of dollars as salaries compound.

In Piqua, teachers who had their steps frozen in 2011-12 and 12-13 will have those steps reinstated the next two years. The new contract says the parties understood years ago that the steps “could possibly be restored in the event that the Board determined its financial health would allow (it).”

Romick has said step raises are a big issue in Dayton’s ongoing negotiations.

“Coming off a four-year step freeze — and admittedly we were the last in the area to do that freeze — it’s crucial that we get a reasonable adjustment on salaries to make Dayton Public Schools a financially attractive option for new and experienced teachers,” he said.

Vandalia-Butler Superintendent Brad Neavin said the parties in his district agreed to a structure with small steps the first four years ($530 with a bachelor’s degree), to leave more money for steps of $1,500 to $1,900 in years 5-12, and then an average of $2,500 in years 13-16.

“Our salaries were fairly competitive starting out and at the end, but at years 6-7-8 we were falling below market,” Neavin said. “We lost a lot of teachers who left with 3 to 6 years of experience, and that’s time when many of them decide (where they want to stay). We were losing teachers right when they were hitting their stride.”

One school’s example

Milton-Union was one of the few local districts to go with a two-year contract rather than three. Ritchey said that’s because it’s harder to project the district’s financial condition multiple years down the road.

After a few welcome years with no increase in medical insurance premiums, the district saw a 5 percent rise this year — still lower than the surges of early this decade.

Ritchey echoed some other educators that the pre-recession era of repeated 6 percent raises at some districts is gone, joking that “2.5 is the new 6.” He said smaller schools have to find a way to keep good employees.

“There are always going to be places like Centerville or (big suburban districts) that can offer all their employees perhaps a higher wage than we can,” Ritchey said. “We’re trying to recruit really good people, and hopefully they feel really good about our culture, fall in love with our little community and our small schools and want to stay.”

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