Teacher Pay in a Time of Austerity

In the rush to fix the many budget problems that have beset governments around the world, many have turned to spending cuts as a solution.  In education, this can sometimes mean larger class sizes, hiring freezes, layoffs, and pay cuts.  Some districts in the US have been fierce; in Canada, teachers have been spared.  But for how long?Ontario, a province with a significant structural deficit, has hired Don Drummond, a former bank economist, to find efficiencies, savings, and outright cuts.  Obviously, no jurisdiction can have, for very long, deficits that far exceed growth rates, so Ontario does have to act.  But with so much spending wrapped up in health and education, where to find the money?  Early in the new year, we’ll find out.The plan will be to keep spending increases to 1% in key areas – which would mean lower-than-inflation pay increases for teachers.  In fact, it might mean something much, much lower than 1%, and here’s why: pay increases occur in two ways – by moving up the gay grid with new years of experience, and with each new step of the pay grid increasing by about 2-3% each year (historically).  So, even if you stop the 2-3% yearly increases, the overall cost of wages will increase by much more than 2-3% per year because the yearly pay grid increase for each passing year of experience is often approaching 10%.The chart below is the Toronto District School Board pay grid, and it indicates the challenge:

Toronto Teacher Pay

Even if we froze that salary grid completely, every teacher who wasn’t yet at the top of the grid (any teachers in years 0-10 of their career), will receive a pay increase.  And it will cost more than 1%.  Much more.

To take a more radical step and freeze new levels of experience, freeze salaries entirely (not just cost-of-living raises), well much more savings could be found.  But to do so would put teachers in an even weaker salary position in relation to other professions.  And as that gap grows, will it be possible to find the best workers?

Everyone says “teachers don’t go into the job for the money,” but I disagree vehemently – this is one of those silly things people say to sound soft and fuzzy.  Teachers need to be paid fairly, and no teacher would work for free.  Money isn’t their key motivator, but wait to see what happens when salaries are cut or frozen and the gap between teachers and other well-educated workers grows and grows.  If good teaching is important, why reduce it to charity work?  Or on the other hand, why not apply the same thinking to medicine, or law?

Here’s Don and friends on a recent edition of TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin.  (Also featured is Ben Levin, one of my recent professors.)

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