A national education group slammed the Clark County School District and the local teachers union on Wednesday for planning to award $54 million in teacher pay raises based on seniority, not performance.
“This doesn’t do a thing to make sure the best teachers are in the classroom. That’s something that really concerns us,” said Andrew Diss, state director for StudentsFirst, a California-based nonprofit advocating for improvements to the country’s public school system and in retention of the best teachers.
Neither of those goals would be achieved by Clark County school officials — who lead the nation’s fifth-largest school system with one of the lowest student achievement rates — continuing a pay system awarding raises for only seniority and continued education, Diss asserted.
“You’d think they would also do something to attract new teachers,” said Diss, referencing the district’s 630 teacher shortage, which forced it this year to use long-term substitutes and retired teachers on pension. “It’s gotten so bad that it’s getting national attention.”
However, the starting teacher salary for those with bachelor’s degrees would remain at less than $35,000, according to the tentative 2014-15 contract negotiated between the district and Clark County Education Association. District spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said Wednesday that the district can’t comment on the proposed contract because it’s still waiting for final School Board approval today.
The district reported many applicants turned down job offers in Clark County this fall to take positions in higher-paying urban districts, such as Salt Lake City, which offers 9 percent more than Clark County, and Houston, where new teachers earn 42 percent more than district teachers.
While part of the contract proposal calls for 1 percent pay raises across the board for all 18,000 teachers in March, an even larger pay raise would be immediately awarded to 8,000 of the district’s most senior teachers. These teachers — currently maxed out on the district’s pay scale — would be awarded the raise based on seniority, not performance.
Clark County’s pay system doesn’t award pay raises for high-performers, only differentiating pay for those earning extra credits and putting in more years here.
That’s how many school districts across the country have done things for decades, according to The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit providing teachers for at-risk schools. These districts also have many departing teachers, according to research by The New Teacher Project released in July.
Clark County reported 1,572 teacher resignations in August, which equals about 9 percent of its entire teaching staff.
The New Teacher Project found that United States schools awarded $250 million in raises last year to teachers identified by their districts as ineffective. It also found that half of the best teachers earned lower salaries than the average ineffective teacher in their district, under the “step-and-column” pay system shared by Clark County.
“You want to reward those teachers who are good at what they do,” Diss said.
But that’s not happening under the current system, which “sends a powerful but nonsensical message: Bad teaching is worth the same as good teaching,” The New Teacher Project reported.
“If we’re trying to improve and retain the best teachers, step-and-columns don’t work,” said Dan Weisberg, executive vice president of The New Teacher Project. After a few years into the profession, a teacher’s seniority doesn’t automatically equate to better teaching, and more educational credits “almost never matters” in terms of a teacher’s performance, he said.
Research has also shown that “we lose great teachers early in their careers,” usually within their first five years, Weisberg said.
“Right now, what you’re basically telling them is you’re going to make a very low wage. It doesn’t matter how good you are. You need to stick around many years before earning more. That’s not the message you want to send them,” Weisberg said.
That message may soon change for Nevada teachers. A state law effective in 2015-16 will require a “program of performance pay and enhanced compensation for the recruitment and retention” of public school teachers and administrators.