Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wauwatosa approves 12% pay hike for teachers
“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.”
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 inflation 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 inflation. 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 offer 8% base pay bumps to match inflation, 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 inflation 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, effectively 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 inflation, 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 financial 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 offer, 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 difficult 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 inflation. 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 difficult 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 offer a further pay increase — $800 annually — to teachers who are licensed in specific areas:
● Montessori teacher
● Physical therapist
● Occupational therapist
● Speech/language therapist
Certified staff who are not teachers in areas such as such as special education and reading specialist will see a salary increase of $800.