DCSD Market Pay System- Does it Work? Article #2
By: Jerry Goings, Retired Principal, Highlands Ranch High School
I was first introduced to the concept of a Douglas County School District Market Pay System while serving on the DCSD negotiations team during the spring of 2012. At this time our district used negotiations to make adjustments to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, or Teacher Contract. Teachers and school administrators involved in negotiations were immediately concerned about the concept of comparing the value of any one teacher to another, and the problems with Market Pay System soon became clear: it is complicated, it is subjective and confusing to work with, and it is inequitable to staff.
The Market Pay System has been in place for three years, and we as building administrators have consistently been told by our teachers that the system is cumbersome and unclear. Hearing this feedback ourselves, we repeatedly asked district leaders to survey teachers, only to be told that, due to the Market Pay System’s complicated nature, employees would not be able to understand it clearly and therefore would not be able to answer survey questions pertaining to it.
And there are many questions that need to be answered: questions about its implementation, its inequities and disproportions, and its use as a tool for employee pay. In this article I would like to address some of these questions.
How was the Market Pay System developed and implemented?
In order to attract the best teachers, schools must be competitive with neighboring school districts, and they do this by comparing neighboring markets to adjust and set their salary schedules. However, the Market Pay System was developed haphazardly, with very little market analysis or research.
Market Pay was first introduced in contract negotiations in April of 2012. Negotiations were halted by the district, effectively removing the voices of the teachers and building level administrators. The Market Pay System was then developed and implemented with no further input from either group. Less than three months later, at the end of June 2012, Market Pay was fully implemented by the District, yet the Pay Band System was not fully communicated to stakeholders until later in the fall of 2012. How this system was implemented made it very difficult for a principal to defend and explain how it worked.
How are the bands inequitable for new teachers?
This system is neither fair nor equitable for teachers. Below (Appendix #1) is the current Certified Salary Band taken directly from the DCSD website. As you can see, a first-year teacher hired to teach second grade would be making $4,000 less than a first-year teacher hired to teach first grade. What can justify this obvious disparity? The jobs require similar skills, carry similar responsibility, and are equally important to the learning progress of a child.
It is common practice for school districts to offer incentives (for example, recognition of more years) to staff documented hard-to-fill positions, increasing salaries for those positions a few thousand dollars on average. Using the DCSD Market Pay System as it stands, there is a difference of $12,000 between the starting salary of a teacher in Band- 25 and a teacher in Band-45.
How are the bands inequitable for current staff?
There was no consideration of the salaries of current teachers when our district rushed to implement the DCSD Market Pay System. During the summer of 2012, new hires negotiated salaries under the new system, while returning teachers remained at their current pay levels. (Note: Salaries had already been frozen for two years). New teachers in the upper pay bands were able to negotiate salaries higher than current teachers who were doing the exact same job. As a result of these inequities, new math, science, special education, and world language teachers received higher salaries than current teachers with the same or more experience. These inequities were not discovered until later in the fall through casual conversations between teachers, since the pay bands were not clearly communicated, so teachers went to their principals to voice their concerns. For example, I had an outstanding special education teacher in my building with three years experience who questioned why a newly hired teacher with no experience was making $8,000 more.
When principals expressed concerns about these inequities, they were given the chance to “bump” the salaries of some teachers ($1,000-$2,000), but this “bump system” was not applied in a uniform way, so for the rest of the 2012-2013 school year there were no more adjustments, meaning some principals were able to make minor salary adjustments while others were not. In 2013, some consistency was attempted when every principal could choose a couple of teachers below the DCSD “market value” to receive a $1000 increase.
To address the issue of market value, district leaders implemented the 12-Block System (Appendix #2) as a more uniform way to help teachers that were below market to catch up (the bump system was still being used). The biggest issue with the 12-Block System is that it takes several years for a teacher below the DCSD market value to catch up. Referring to my earlier example, the special education teacher making $8,000 below market would need Highly Effective ratings for four straight years to catch up to the beginning salary of a colleague doing the same job.
What happens when teachers move within the system (changing their pay bands)?
Teachers who move up or down in the Pay Band System do not receive an immediate adjustment. Instead, the 12-Block System is used to make adjustments. Once again, this can take several years to attain equity in the system. The biggest issue is movement in elementary schools; for example, a teacher moving from first to second grade or vice versa. Instead of making these placement decisions based on what is in the best interest of our students, principals must consider how moving teachers between pay bands could create salary inequities.
What is the impact of being the only school district in the area using a Market Pay System?
No other district is using a differentiated Market Pay System in the Denver metro area. A second grade teacher in DCSD (Band-25) right out of college is making an average of $4,034 less when compared to the average starting pay of all the major school districts in the metro area, and would be the same for all beginning teachers in Band-25 (See Appendix #3). This is not “market pay” when you have pay bands way below competitive school districts. This is an example where we have created an internal market system that does not respond to changes in the larger labor market for all positions, especially Band-25.
Does the Market Pay System value teachers who further their education?
While level of education is used when negotiating salary for new hires in the system, current employees do not receive any adjustment to salary for furthering their education, creating even more inequities. If a current teacher earns a Master’s degree, he or she will not receive any compensation, while a new teacher’s base salary will be adjusted because of a Master’s degree. All other large school districts offer salary incentives for current teachers who continue their education.
Does market pay value outstanding teachers in elementary schools?
In elementary schools, 57% to 66% of the regular teaching jobs are in the lowest pay band (Band-25). Teachers in Band-25 are the lowest paid teachers in metro area large school districts (See Appendix #3). How is this being competitive in the market for our elementary schools? As most of our elementary teachers are female, the Market Pay System has also created issues of gender equity with pay.
The Market Pay System was thrown together and implemented with a very short timeline. It has created so many inequities and is so complicated that it has impacted the morale of teachers. We have students and parents protesting about teacher turnover, and now a comprehensive article in the News Press outlining issues with morale and turnover, yet our district leaders continue to stand by their system and say that there are no issues with teacher turnover or morale. Why have we not had a comprehensive survey and study about the effectiveness of this system?
In my next article I will write about the Douglas County School District Performance Pay System. While Market Pay created issues with morale, Performance Pay has had an even greater negative impact. The subjectivity of a complicated evaluation system is used to set the pay for employees, and then school administrators are pressured to keep Highly Effective Teacher ratings below 20 percent (the “Silent Quota System”), creating unnecessary stress on teachers and administrators and a toxic culture in many schools.