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Selling Your Benefits: What Teachers Need To Know

Most schools offer an array of benefits, some simple, some elaborate, some costly, some cost-conscious, but what all schools seem to have in common is faculties who do not know about the existence of some of the benefits or about their ultimate value and the cost to their schools. In other words, the schools receive very little credit for an attractive benefit package. That reality can lead to poor public relations with teachers and staff and little negotiating power with them about potential future salary and/or benefit changes and tradeoffs.

In a recent visit to a European independent/ international School, almost every teacher did not know that while the School does not offer medical coverage (as the national government provides it), it DOES offer accident insurance coverage anywhere in the world at any time for all staff. The teachers were surpised to hear from this Consultant that when they traveled home for the summer or elsewhere for vacation, they had coverage for accidents or injuries of any kind.

The same School provides free lunch and free parking, the latter being an expensive and highly coveted benefit in this congested urban area. None of the teachers interviewed mentioned these perks when asked to name the benefits that they receive. In fact, most of these uninformed individuals answered “none” to this question. The School also pays high costs for the employer’s portion of the payments for social security, medical and retirement in this country.

In another international School, teachers, except the single women for whom physical safety is especially important, took housing for granted in this lovely but somewhat dangerous setting. Many did not appreciate fully that housing often meant a freestanding home with a yard and also with security guards.

Most independent schools and certainly the vast majority of international schools provide tuition remission (usually tax free) or preferential financial aid for the children of teachers. Often teachers consider this “automatic” even though it discriminates against those without children and represents tens of thousands of dollars over time that a school can never make up to those who have no children at all or any of school age. Many of these schools also offer free or subsidized day care before and/or after school for staff children, and faculty and staff simply expect it.

When appropriate and practical and for international

schools in accordance with local laws, other benefits may include: benefit banks to allow for flexibility and tax sheltering and the more equitable allocation of benefits to teachers at different stages of their lives; generous leave policies and mini-sabbaticals; and professional development for earning advanced degrees, attending conferences, summer travel and renewal. Many schools provide free breakfast for the faculty to encourage community building; financial planning for teachers who are notoriously poor at focusing upon their own financial futures; unique long-term disability policies and life insurance options. These are benefits that teachers unfortunately do not view as “real money.”

International schools also provide moving expenses, relocation expenses, flights home, “settling in” allowances, and sometimes signing bonuses. Most teachers view these as standard benefits to which they are entitled because they tend to move frequently.

These scenarios are akin to the situation that faculty and school leadership fall into when, according to the lane and track salary model in place, teachers annually receive a step increase plus the bump in the salary scale due to inflation or just for improvement. The teachers view the step increase as a “given”, not more money in their pockets.

All school leaders need to do a much better job of educating their faculty and staff about the value of all the benefits (both mandated and optional ones) offered. They need to do this annually not just for new teachers, but in a session required of all staff and presented by a knowledgeable outsider if the CFO does not feel that public speaking is one of his or her better skills. In fact, a presentation by an outside independent compensation consultant might be much more powerful because he or she can put the benefits package in the proper context of what other comparable schools offer. Teachers are often very uninformed or misinformed about what is available in the wider marketplace.

This Consultant has often said that the more stipends, reduced workloads and titles proliferate, the more schools have to penny pinch in their base salary improvements. And just as most teachers do not regard stipends (PR’s) or course reductions as part of their “salary”, a too rich and varied benefits system, if not sold properly, can almost be a waste of money because the staff may never truly appreciate it.

The Answer: Sell your existing benefits to your staff effectively and annually before adding more. Consider hiring an outside expert to put these benefits in their proper perspective

John C. Littleford
Senior Partner