Parties claim they are not far apart


First Posted: 9/6/2013

The two sides in the Wyoming Area School District teacher strike have said the differences at the negotiating table are small, yet critical questions of pay.

A review of the potential impact from the latest offers shows that, dollar-wise, the differences would be small for most teachers individually, but are much greater when comparing veteran teachers to relative newcomers.

Assuming that raises were spread equally among all teachers — not a guarantee — newcomers with a bachelor’s degree would see annual increases ranging from 0.48 percent to 2.77 percent over the six-year offer by the school board. By comparison, a teacher with eight years experience and a master’s degree would see increases ranging from 3.86 percent to 8.64 percent.

But that high rate rises from a deferral of any retroactive raise in 2011-12, substantially increasing the raise teachers would get for 2012-13.

The union proposal has no deferral: A newcomer with a bachelor’s degree would see increases from 0.48 percent to 3.52 percent, while an eight-year master’s degree teacher would see increases from 3.86 percent to 6.05 percent.

The analysis suggests that under the board’s proposal the master’s degree teacher would see pay rise by a total of 30.7 percent over the six-year contract, compared to 9.7 percent for the bachelor’s degree. The changes would be 33.8 percent and 12.4 percent respectively under the union proposal.

The analysis was done solely to give a relative idea of the impact of each offer on teachers with different education levels and experience. There are substantial caveats:

• The analysis did not consider any raises for increased education — the expired contract being replaced provided raises for every six college credits. These are known as “column” raises.

• The analysis couldn’t look at actual dollar figures in the proposals. Along with column raises, the expired contract provided annual raises for 15 years, known as “step” raises. The percentage of raises varies depending on education level, or column. When the two sides negotiate, they don’t negotiate every step and column salary. They negotiate overall annual increases, leaving it up to the union to dispense the money in the step/column matrix, district lead negotiator attorney John Dean said.

• For simplicity, the analysis made an assumption that rarely holds true: A teacher would not earn any college credits for the duration of the contract. To maintain their state licenses, teachers — particularly new ones — must complete a minimum of “continuing education” credits within several years.

Salary matrix

All that said, the newspaper used the step/column salary matrix from the last contract, which expired in August 2010, to calculate potential annual increases for hypothetical teachers at three different levels in the 2009-10 school year: A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree, an eighth-year teacher with a master’s degree, and a teacher who has reached the top of the pay scale, working at least 16 years and earning at least a master’s degree plus 60 credits. Details of the two offers were provided by Dean.

Based on the 2009-10 salary matrix from the old contract, the three teachers would have been paid $32,206, $43,370 and $79,792 that year.

In the latest offers from both side, the salaries for 2010-11 should be the same because teacher received their step increases that year: $32,360, $45,044 and $80,042 — though the increase for the top teacher was a $250 sum, not an actual “step” raise. That translates into raises of 0.48 percent, 3.86 percent and 0.31 percent.

Pay for 2011-12 is where the debate begins.

The board initially insisted on a “true pay freeze,” meaning teachers would get no step increase at all, and that step increases would resume the following year.

But that proposal was dropped in the Aug. 26 negotiations and the board proposed a raise deferral, granting the step increase on paper but not actually increasing pay. Teachers would then see a bigger increase, for two steps, in 2012-13. Teachers at the top of the scale would get a $250 raise that year.

Which means salaries would remain flat for one year for the three hypothetical teachers, but would climb the following year to $33,072, $49,020 and $80,292, or 2.19 percent, 8.64 percent and 0.31 percent, making the difference for a master’s degree teacher particularly pronounced.

Latest proposal

The union’s latest proposal asked for the existing step increases in 2011-12 plus a $500 increase for top-of-scale teachers, and a step increase in 2012-13 plus an additional 0.25 percent. Rather than remaining flat, 2011-12 salaries would rise to $32,638, $46,927 and $80,542. In 2012-13 they would climb again to $33,154, $49,135 and $80,743.

So the 2012-13 increases would be lower than under the board’s proposal — 1.6 percent, 4.7 percent and 0.25 percent, but the teachers would have seen raises of 0.86 percent, 4.2 percent an 0.6 percent the prior year, rather than no raise.

The plans diverge more sharply in the remaining three years. The board proposed existing step raises for 2013-14 and 2014-15, with teachers already at the top of the scale getting $250 raises each year. In the final year of the contract, the board offered its first and only increase beyond existing step payment, bumping salary an additional 0.25 percent for those still on the steps and for those at the top of the scale.

The union sought step payments plus another 0.5 percent in 2013-14, and an additional 1 percent in each of the final two years. Those at the top of the scale would see their pay increase by those percentages.

Effect on salaries

The upshot for the hypothetical teachers?

Under the board’s proposal, the bachelor’s degree newbie would have seen his or her salary rise from $32,360 in 2009-10 to $35,323 in 2015-16 for an increase of $3,117, while under the union proposal it would have hit $36,195 for a total increase of $3,989. The two contracts differ for this teacher by $872 over the six years.

For the master’s degree teacher with eight years at the start of the contract, salary would have risen from $43,370 to $56,688 under the board plan and to $58,047 under the union plan, giving total increases of $13,318 and $14,677 respectively, making a $1,360 difference between proposals.

For the top-of-scale teacher, salary would have risen from $79,792 to $80,994 under the board’s plan and to $82,778 under the union plan, for respective total increases of $1,202 and $2,986, making a six-year difference of $1,784 between the proposals.

Union leaders contend the problem is that the board’s offer just extends the old contract without any real raises. During Tuesday’s opening picket march, Union President Melissa Dolman said a settlement is simple: “The board has to offer percentage raises within the steps.”

Dean counters that the steps are, by definition, already raises, that the district has only enough money in reserve to pay what it has offered, and that any other increases would require cutbacks or a tax hikes.

But the analysis suggests a third dynamic often acknowledged privately but rarely discussed publicly: Veteran teachers not only have higher salaries that could make it easier to weather an unpaid strike, they also may have more reason to hold out for the better deal.

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