Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wauwatosa approves 12% pay hike for teachers

- Rory Linnane and Quinn Clark

“We see really experience­d educators going into another line of work. There are lots of options open for them, so if they’re not seeing pay that can help them pay their mortgage and raise families, sometimes it’s a hard decision but one that they need to make for their family’s lives.”

Christina Brey

Wisconsin Education Associatio­n Council president

Wauwatosa teachers will see a 12% salary hike next school-year under a plan approved by the Wauwatosa School Board on Monday, as board members said they hope it will be enough to keep teachers despite inflation and competing job opportunit­ies.

It’s unusual to see a bump that large in Wisconsin, since Act 10, passed in 2011, forbids teachers unions from negotiatin­g for base pay increases beyond the rate of inflation. That rate hovered below 2.5% until recently, enabling record 4.7% pay bumps for this school year.

Going into the next school year, Wisconsin school districts are able to offer 8% base pay bumps to match inflation, as measured by the state Department of Revenue. Milwaukee Public Schools plans to give an 8% pay increase to all staff.

In Wauwatosa’s proposal, administra­tors noted MPS’ plan “sent shock waves” and was “cause for concern for the competitiv­eness” of Wauwatosa teacher salaries.

Under Wisconsin’s Act 10, the only way school districts can increase base pay beyond inflation is to get approval from voters in a referendum. But districts can sweeten the deal in other ways.

The Wauwatosa School Board last year implemente­d pay steps, so teachers would get a 3% raise for each year that they stayed in the district. Under the plan approved this week, teachers will get to jump two steps at once, effectively getting a 6% pay hike.

Additional­ly, the school board is increasing each step’s base pay by 6% — that’s less than the rate of inflation, but together, the maneuvers amount to a 12% bump for each teacher. The increase applies only to teachers.

Next year, teachers’ salaries will start at $48,408, moving Wauwatosa to the top 10% of starting salaries in the region.

The maximum salary will be $101,356, the highest maximum salary among regional districts, based on this year’s highest reported salary, which was $89,674.

The district collaborat­ed with the teachers union, Wauwatosa Education Associatio­n, over the past two years to create the new compensati­on system.

Board member Michael Meier cast the only vote opposing the increases. Meier said although he believes teachers deserved more pay, he was concerned about the district’s financial situation, noting that it’s not yet clear how many students will be enrolled this fall and how much funding the state will offer. He said, alternativ­ely, he would support a referendum to raise the funds.

Many other districts are still determinin­g what they will offer, and the pressure is high, said Christina Brey, president of the Wisconsin Education Associatio­n Council.

“We see really experience­d educators going into another line of work,” Brey said. “There are lots of options open for them, so if they’re not seeing pay that can help them pay their mortgage and raise families, sometimes it’s a hard decision but one that they need to make for their family’s lives.”

At a hearing of the Legislatur­e’s budget-writing committee, DeForest Superinten­dent Rebecca Toetz called for more state funding to support better pay for school staff, saying her school district is “competing with the hourly salaries of places like Woodman’s, Kwik Trip and now even Buc-ees.”

Wauwatosa was starting from a losing position, with its teacher salaries ranking toward the bottom of Southeaste­rn Wisconsin school districts it examined for comparison in 2021.

Wauwatosa Superinten­dent Demond Means said it has been difficult for him to drive improvemen­ts to achievemen­t gaps and behavioral challenges while staff have felt undervalue­d.

“That work has been nearly impossible to do because we have staff members who have felt the years of disrespect,” he said.

The Wauwatosa School District had frozen salaries between 2019 and 2021, and then matched inflation. Last year, the district started addressing the low salaries by implementi­ng an annual step schedule for teachers so their salaries go up by 3% each year they stay.

This school year, the average Wauwatosa teacher salary was about $60,000, compared to an average $66,000 in the median local school district, the district found in an analysis of 11 local districts. Next school year, Wauwatosa teachers will have an average salary of about $67,000, according to district projection­s.

Because the state budget may not provide the district with the funds to support the raises, the district plans to dip into its cash reserves, draining the fund by $3.8 million over the next two school years.

If state funding doesn’t increase, administra­tors noted they will be in a difficult position after these two school years and may need to consider a salary freeze for the 2025-26 school year. Other options would include holding a referendum to ask local voters for the funds or reducing the district’s budget in other areas.

In addition to the 12% increase, the school district also plans to offer a further pay increase — $800 annually — to teachers who are licensed in specific areas:

● Montessori teacher

● Physical therapist

● Occupation­al therapist

● Speech/language therapist

Certified staff who are not teachers in areas such as such as special education and reading specialist will see a salary increase of $800.

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