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“Our teachers haven’t had a raise for the last three years.” — Ed Hughes, clerk and candidate for president of the Madison School Board

There are a lot of employees who haven’t seen their pay go up in three years, but the vast majority of Madison public school teachers aren’t among them.

And yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re taking home more money.

Confused? Welcome to the world of public school teacher compensation, post-Act 10.

Hughes isn’t the first public school representative whose definition of “raise” doesn’t jibe with the way the rest of the world defines “raise” — i.e., an increase in salary for a job well done.

During teachers union contract negotiations, public school and union officials routinely refer to a “raise” as something that is distinct from and in addition to the automatic bumps in salary teachers are already getting for remaining on the job and accruing more college credit. Essentially, such raises are across-the-board increases in a district’s salary range, known as a salary schedule.

But if a district refuses to increase that range, teachers continue to get longevity and degree-attainment pay raises under the old salary schedule.

It’s such parsing that allows Hughes to say teachers haven’t gotten raises — and to be right, at least in one context.

The Madison Schools teacher salary schedule provides increases of between a few hundred dollars to more than a $1,000 for each year of service and in the range of $3,000 to $7,000 more a year for getting a master’s degree.

For this school year, 2,498 of 2,700 teachers got salary increases for longevity and degree attainment. District spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson couldn’t say what the average increase was.

Hughes acknowledged that it’s probably fairer to define seniority and degree-attainment hikes as raises. “I have learned that the great majority of our teachers benefit from these increases,” he said.

Still, he said teachers generally are making less than they did three years ago, before they agreed to start putting some of their take-home pay toward retirement. That concession was made with the advent of Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, and Hughes said it cut teacher pay an average of 5.5 percent.

I have little sympathy for teachers having to do something that most of us have been doing for a long time: saving for retirement. Teachers still don’t pay for their health insurance — the cost of which, for the rest of us, has been rising at alarming rates for years.

Nevertheless, Hughes is right, and he stands by his call for giving Madison teachers 1.5 percent “raises” (as in those across-the-board increases to the salary schedule).

He makes a fair point, although even better would be to pay teachers like doctors, lawyers and other well-paid professionals — and to expect similar levels of responsibility, work and educational attainment in return.

As that’s probably not possible in the short-term, a less complex teacher-compensation system would be nice.

Teachers may deserve a raise, but taxpayers should at least know what they’re paying for.

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Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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