Over the weekend I was at a neighborhood July 4th get-together. The group was a mixed one. If I had to guess, most were either a-political or run-of-the-mill Rhode Island Democrats. The topic turned to the recent closing of a local Warwick elementary school and how property taxes just got a big bump (believe me, they did). There was anger over the tax hikes and the school closure. One parent questioned why a school would close when money could have been saved elsewhere, mentioning the fact that the teachers make a lot of money and that you could find it all out at the “Ocean State Policy” website.
The parent then listed off some of the salaries of teachers from the local elementary school. There were a few surprised faces amongst those who heard the numbers, to which the parent then said, “Yeah, I know…I thought they made like $45-$50,000 or something, not that much!”
In an attempt to shed some more light on the situation, I decided to take a ride on the Transparency Train to analyze the actual school payroll numbers for Warwick. It’s more time consuming but also more illustrative of the actual situation than the teacher contract.
I looked at the 2007-08 salaries of full-time teachers in a variety of categories. The below table, based on the 2007-2008 Payroll, summarizes my findings. It shows the number of teachers in each category, the total amount of money dedicated to their salaries and then average salary, average low and high salaries (the average high salary at the Jr. High and High School level reflects the pay received by department heads), and the average median salaries.
If you compare these numbers to the salary schedules in the teacher contract (page 109 in this PDF), you’ll find that that, for the most part, the median Elementary and High School teacher salary in Warwick is the equivalent of a Step 10 (or more) with some longevity and probably some advanced education bonuses thrown in. Overall, elementary teacher salaries are the highest, followed by High School and then Junior High.
Given that most people think teachers make about as much as the average Rhode Islander, around $50,000 – $54,000 a year (in 2007), it’s understandable their surprise when learning about these numbers. While it is true that new teachers enter the work force at the average income level, that doesn’t last for long. It is apparent that the majority of teachers are compensated at a level at the top or above the traditionally negotiated step scheme. While the teacher salaries are arguably commensurate with other professionals of similar background and training, the benefits they earn–in addition to the shorter work-year–are something those in the private sector don’t enjoy. In addition to their salaries, teachers also receive $10.5-$12,000 in pension contributions from the district in addition to $15,000 in medical/dental benefits.
But these numbers also help explain some other things, too. In general, teachers at the Junior High level are paid less than their Elementary or High School colleagues. This is unsurprising given the additional challenges faced when teaching this age group. In short, once they get they’re time in, a lot of teachers go to Elementary or High School, where the kids are generally more receptive or, in the case of High School, you know what you’re dealing with. In Jr. High, every day is a mystery with a cohort that is feeling their oats. Unfortunately, that they are so challenging is the very reason to keep the best, most experienced teachers at the Jr. High level. If only they had incentive.
It can also be inferred that, because Warwick has closed a few elementary schools in the past two years, the job openings are in the secondary education area (Jr. High and High School). This means that the elementary schools are “top heavy”, with the result that the median income is higher at the elementary level. It would take some additional analysis of other school districts that haven’t experienced so many school closings to determine if this is indeed a factor.
As I was looking at the teacher payroll, I thought a comparison with the payroll of the other big ticket items–Fire and Police–would help add some context. The data available was for 2008-09— a year later than the teacher info I used– so the data isn’t contemporaneous. (The actual low, high and median salaries for each position are given, not an average as with most of the teacher data).
I don’t have much analysis to offer for these last examples. They are what they are. Additionally, a quick survey of the municipal payroll reveals a lot of salaries that fall within the “average Rhode Islander” pay range or below, with a few high-salary, supervisor positions, as well. (For further comparison, this site purports to supply salaries for a range of private sector jobs in Warwick). I’ll conclude with this: taxpayers should be aware of these numbers so that they can determine whether they think these are legitimate wages to pay for the jobs being done or not.