Earlier this summer, Brent Siler was getting calls about once a week with job offers.
But the technology education teacher wouldn’t leave his job in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, turning down recruiters from school districts across the state, some of whom were offering to pay relocation costs and signing bonuses.
Siler is one of the relatively few teachers in Wisconsin who is licensed to teach courses in civil engineering, design, architecture or any of the other fields related to the highly sought after science, technology, engineering, manufacturing curriculum high schools want to offer.
And he also teaches in a field that could benefit from new pay structures area school districts are considering in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 law that effectively eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public employees. Among other things, districts are looking at paying competitive salaries to attract and retain teachers licensed in high-demand fields like technology.
The new compensation plans also can take teachers’ evaluations or leadership qualities into consideration when figuring raises, not just additional certifications and education.
“The great irony is that Act 10 has created a marketplace for good teachers,” said Dean Bowles, a Monona Grove School Board member.
Fellow board member Peter Sobol said though the law was billed as providing budget relief for school districts and local government, it could end up being harder on budgets as districts develop compensation models that combine their desire to reward good teachers and the need to keep them. Knowing how many teachers each year will attain the leadership responsibilities and certifications that result in added pay will be difficult.
Monona Grove is developing a career ladder to replace its current salary schedule. The new model is still being drafted by a committee of district administrators, school board members and teachers, but its aim will be to reward “increased responsibility, leadership, ‘stretch assignments’ and other contributions to the district and school missions,’ ” according to the district.
“We thought we could do better,” Monona Grove School District superintendent Dan Olson said, adding that the message to parents is that with the new model, “we’ll be able to keep our good teachers.”
Bowles said the process should result in a district being a place that might not offer the highest pay in the state, but be a place teachers want to work.
“ ‘Attract and retain’ is one of the goals on that list, and in my judgment that does not boil down to” just salary, he said. “It’s also, ‘This is a place I hope you want to be,’ and our kids will benefit from it.”
Though still a work in progress, the plan envisions providing tuition reimbursement for teachers to get master’s degrees and further certifications and may even offer the courses at the district’s offices to make it easier for teachers to attain those designations, Olson said.
As in Monona Grove, district administrators in Oregon say there are certain teachers the district can’t afford to lose to the free agency teachers now have in post-Act 10 Wisconsin.
The district’s six technology education teachers will receive $10,000 in supplemental pay annually for four years starting this school year and a $2,500 annual retention bonus after that to remain in the district for the next four years, Superintendent Brian Busler said.
The district and school board also are looking at developing a new district-wide teacher compensation model, too, and may ask voters in April for $3.5 million to be able to provide raises, according to school board meeting documents.
“In my view, it will result in raises in the bar of professionalism and really treating teachers and educators like they should have been treated for years — as pure professionals,” said Busler. “But will it cost additional money? Absolutely.”
The Sun Prairie School District this year implemented a compensation model that requires teachers to take 60 hours of professional development, among other things, to move to the next pay level. It also allows the district’s hiring manager to make “market adjustments” in salaries for teachers in hard-to-find fields like technology or agriculture, and gives stipends for teachers who have additional degrees.
“Under the old system, only the degree for education would count. But we said, if you have a degree in education and a degree in engineering and you’re teaching engineering — that’s really valuable,” said Sun Prairie School District superintendent Tim Culver.
In addition to stipends, Sun Prairie teachers who earn master’s degrees will receive a $4,000 raise, and teachers who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards or earn a Master Educator license will see a $2,000 raise.
Retaining teachers who could make more in their fields outside of public education or in other districts is a common aim of the new models, and a noticeable difference from the pre-Act 10 education landscape.
“I like the idea of being able to make more money, but I think it could cause resentment at schools as far as teachers being able to work with other teachers,” Siler said. “I think it’s a tool better used to retain quality teachers. If schools are just using it to recruit teachers from other districts, I think they are doing a disservice to the profession as a whole. It’s not really solving the problem — it’s passing the problem on to another district. The bigger issue is a lack of teachers qualified to teach these courses.”
Siler said while there were dozens of technology education openings in Wisconsin last year, there were only a handful of college freshmen who enrolled last year in the programs at UW-Platteville and UW-Stout — the two state universities that offer the degrees. A symptom of the low number could be that students studying engineering or technology can make more money outside of teaching, he said.
Middleton-Cross Plains spokesman Perry Hibner said for an elementary opening, the district typically sees 400 applicants. But for a recent tech ed opening, the district received just three applicants.
The district also will be looking at developing a new compensation model in the coming school year. Like the other districts, Hibner said the goal is to find a “more sustainable” pay model.
Janice Stone, a middle school music teacher in Monona Grove and a member of the committee developing the new model, said it’s important that the model be objective and transparent so teachers know how to get to each level of the ladder.
“Whatever system we come up with should be fair to everybody,” she said. “And I believe that it would be best if we honor all the different facets that kids are going to come to school needing. It would be sad to me if we ... ended up paying people more than others. But I know it’s very hard to get teachers in some fields, and I don’t know how to solve that.”