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Salary gap

HSSD would use referendum funds to better pay teachers

By Ben Rodgers

Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series that examines the upcoming April 3 referendum for the Howard-Suamico School District. This article reviews how the district would address teacher competitiveness.

SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico School District knew two years ago it had a problem with teacher compensation.

The most recent data from HSSD shows 299 teachers in the district are underpaid by an average of $3,561 compared to their counterparts in the neighboring districts of Ashwaubenon, Green Bay, De Pere and West De Pere.

After countless hours of volunteer committee and subgroup work, a group of educators and administrators believe they have the answer. But the referendum would vastly speed up the process.

“We wanted to look at ways we can maintain, but also keep our new recruits,” said Chris Miller, a sixth grade teacher at Lineville Intermediate School who is in his 19th year teaching in the district.

Miller and his peers in education sat down as a committee and came up with a plan that not only addresses teacher salaries, but also benefits, paid time off and student loan repayment, among other things – a whole new compensation model.

Chris Miller, a sixth grade teacher at Lineville Intermediate School, sits in his classroom on Thursday, March 8. Miller sat on a committee for the past two years that worked to revamp how teachers are paid in the Howard-Suamico School District. Ben Rodgers Photo

What the referendum would do is jump start that project and close the salary gap teachers in the district face.

“In the last 5 to 6 years, we have teachers that will come here and get a job here, but then they receive offers from other districts, so we lose staff, sometimes because they receive more from somewhere else,” Miller said.

The new comprehensive compensation plan will go into effect next year, regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

“The formula we have for teacher pay, we’ve already made a commitment to try and close the gap with a yes or no,” said Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations. “The compensation committee has worked on if the referendum is successful how we do apply more money to that formula to close the gap quicker. That plan is ready to go.”

With referendum funds the district can infuse those dollars and stop one of the biggest reasons teachers leave, their salaries.

Spets said the district loses teachers every year, most due to retirement. But some he said leave because of better pay elsewhere.

Part of the reason the district has lagged behind in competitive salary is the current pay scale that is set to expire after this school year, Ascend.

Ascend increased salaries based on things like obtaining a masters degree and visibility in the community through volunteering.

Two things administration has previously said that can be difficult for teachers to accomplish given their existing classroom commitments.

On the heels of last year’s failed referendum the district eliminated 19 teaching positions.

“We made a philosophical choice that we were going to continue to proceed towards our goal in having the best compensated educators and employees, so we had to reduce our workforce,” Spets said. “Fewer people with better pay was the choice we made last time.”

He said the committee and its goal through collaboration to research and develop aspects of compensation came as a result of meeting with more than 150 teachers personally and hearing their needs.

“It was very clear that the previous system wasn’t addressing the actual compensation gap as compared to the other districts,” Spets said. “So we needed a committee.”

Along with Miller, Becky Zimmer, principal at Meadowbrook Elementary School, sat on that committee.
Zimmer said that along with closing the salary gap, the referendum would also allow schools to attract top talent moving forward to help reduce class sizes.

Becky Zimmer, principal at Meadowbrook Elementary School, is shown here in her office on Thursday, March 8. As an administrator, Zimmer served on a committee that plans to revamp teacher pay in the district. Ben Rodgers Photo

“As an administrator, what a ‘yes’ vote does for us is allow us to hire the best,” Zimmer said. “In the past we’ve been restricted on how we can hire, based on salary, teachers coming in, who are the best, or teachers coming in with lots of experience who make more money at a different district that want to get that same pay here. We could not do it. I couldn’t hire them. With a ‘yes’ vote those doors open up allowing me to hire the best.”

She said teachers who have roots in a district are oftentimes more effective than a teacher who just started.

Like at any company, teachers who start in HSSD need to go through an on-boarding process and learn the district’s ins and outs.

Those who have been in the district for a while are able to form relationships with administrators and families of students.

“The longer a teacher is there, they not only know the school and the district, they know the community and the families,” Zimmer said.

The vote on April 3 would allow to district to exceed the revenue cap by $5.85 million a year for five years.

Read The Press next week for the fourth and final part of the series that looks at the need to address facilities maintence.

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