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The Explosion of Extra Pay

The original model of an independent school workload as viewed through the lens of the boarding school was three or four courses, coaching and advising students. There were no stipends for coaching or other after school activities.

While this model still exists and many schools are struggling to find their way back to some semblance of it, the vast majority of independent schools, particularly day schools, have stepped so far off the plate in “stipending” positions that creating, funding and jockeying for those positions has become a cottage industry.

In Littleford & Associates’ work with over 1000 independent schools on the topic of faculty compensation, we find that stipends are created for the following purposes:

  1. To offer some sense of fairness and equity to those who really carry the extra curricular load.
  2. To ensure that the School can continue to attract or persuade teachers to coach or undertake similar activities that draw from family time.
  3. To entice a teacher who might otherwise jump to the public schools or other private schools to stay. This is particularly the case in schools with rigid salary scales.
  4. To pay teachers “more” of a living wage to compensate for an inadequate (real or perceived) base salary. While opposition to increasing base salaries may be substantial, there is a willingness to continue to increase the number or amount of stipends since they are not built into base.
  5. To signal a form of internal promotion when no additional administrative positions exist in order to increase the sense of professional status.

Only about 15% of US independent schools do NOT offer stipends for coaching or other similar extra curricular activities. And the number is dropping. Most of these are traditional east coast boarding schools or day schools still following the notion of the triple threat, with teachers serving in the classroom, on the field and in the dorm, or its equivalent in a day school setting as an advisor.

However, each of the reasons above can be dissected and questioned when the patterns of compensation behavior in these schools actually are examined.

Schools once required a load of three or four courses and at least two coaching assignments. As those senior coach/teachers retired, schools seemed unable or unwilling to find new or existing teachers to assume the coaching commitment. Some teachers simply dropped their assignment without taking on any equivalent responsibility. Often in these cases, young hires took on the load willingly at first, and then over time felt that it was inequitable and wanted and needed to be paid accordingly.

This trend began with varsity coaches receiving extra pay. Then it spread to JV coaches, intra mural coaches, and finally to the advisors for the yearbook, newspaper, debate, student council, drama, clubs, and of course for department heads, grade level coordinators, and a plethora of other titles, some of which showed a great deal of inventiveness and creativity.

One school which had been in the mode of exploding stipends for many years, in an effort to create equity and fairness, created an elaborate “A to Z” system for “grading” and “weighing” the value of the extra curricular load. The letter “A” designated a major varsity sport whereas a “Z” activity might include a club that met only once monthly.

Within each “letter” group, there were also three “grades” of experience: entry, mid career and senior. A committee of faculty and administrators assigned a letter and a grade to all stipended or extra curricular assignments. A few years later, when an outside consultant was asked to assess the competitiveness and fairness of the compensation system, numerous complaints arose about the extra pay scale. As elaborate as it was and as much time and energy as it had taken to develop and implement with good intentions, teachers still felt there were many and even glaring inequities about how it worked in practice.

Sometimes the complaint was about the “assigning” process and a feeling that the time commitment of an activity was misjudged. Others felt that a “lower end” activity carried out with extraordinary effort might be more “valuable” than coaching a JV sport, for example. Equity could not be achieved. It never can be. Attempts to provide more equity or a greater sense of fairness are laudable, but the more complicated the system, the greater the likelihood of ultimate discontent. Complex systems tend to be more subject to misunderstanding, manipulation and abuse.

Another School, which historically had expected a load of four courses and two JV coaching assignments found itself over time negotiating a reduction in workload for titles, coaching and a myriad of other assignments. The reduction in workload was actually more costly; a 10% or 20% reduction in load for a more experienced and higher paid teacher is much more expensive (including pension paid) than a flat year stipend (on which no pension is paid). As the percentage of teaching time was reduced for other assignments, from study halls to advisory roles, the real cost of each activity rose substantially more than if a stipend were attached to it.

However, this School then introduced stipends for other activities as well, i.e., in addition to reduced workload, thus undermining the very reason for the reduced load concept and increasing the complexity of the system.

Such patterns tend to occur more in a setting with frequent leadership changes, where decision making is not always consistent, clear or communicated quickly over multiple sites, and/or with highly persuasive senior staff who have become successful negotiators.

In yet another School, the Head wanted to encourage faculty to play a meaningful dorm role and grow in coaching to reach the varsity status. He also wanted to reward teachers for taking on more assignments in general.

In this School base pay was acceptable but not highly competitive. The new system of rewards offered “points” for coaching, dorm duty, teaching extra classes and for a range of other extra curricular assignments. The point value was assessed at the end of each year based on the health of the school budget so teachers knew what a point would be worth for the upcoming school year.

The mostly male faculty embraced the system enthusiastically as a way to increase their earning power. Young teachers “loaded up” with commitments. More senior teachers stayed in the dorms longer than they might have done otherwise.

When the Head hired a consultant on this general compensation topic some years later, he found that the faculty were very disenchanted. To them, most of the School’s money seemed funneled into this point system instead of into competitive base salaries.

Unintended side effects of the system were that teachers were experiencing more burnout and fatigue, and some were undertaking assignments in which they had no intrinsic interest or even in some cases, the talent- all for the purpose of earning the extra points that could result in substantial extra pay. The Head then proceeded to dismantle the extra pay/point system over time.

Another School with a strong tradition of athletic as well as academic excellence that paid moderate salaries began to lean heavily on extra curricular and coaching pay as a way of recruiting and retaining teachers and coaches. While that is not an unusual pattern, it can become a dangerous one. It became clear to many at this School that the male upper school teachers who also coached were being paid the lion’s share of extra curricular pay, and the varsity football coach was paid more for that role than the average salary of the beginning teacher.

In another well known day School, extra curricular pay had climbed to one million dollars a year out of a total school budget of eight million. The Board was unaware of the magnitude of this extra curricular behemoth until a new Head began an “audit” of expenditure patterns to learn what made the School’s salary costs so outsized compared to those of its peers.

When the new Head reported to the Board that the extra pay system was mushrooming, the Board in its turn demanded a freeze on all such stipends and a review of their appropriateness and comparability. Many had known for some years that the School’s extra pay system was much larger than even its public school peers as this School competed for outside top flight coaches. The Board’s order caused consternation among the faculty who then refused to undertake any of the extra curricular functions. This caused in turn a major uproar among the students and parents and the loss of a number of students to competing schools at the end of that year.

Schools might be wise to examine their mission first, their philosophy of compensation second (if they have one), and from that determine as well the definition of a full time job. Does it include five classes and one extra curricular major assignment? Four classes and two modest extra assignments? Three classes and three other major assignments (such as varsity coaching)?

A redefinition of load, and perhaps a detailed examination of the culture of the school and how it is being changed by an expanding extra pay system should be undertaken in most schools. For those few independent schools that have adhered firmly, despite obstacles, to a clear and well defined concept of a full time job that includes teaching, coaching, advising and appropriate other assignments in the arts, this lesson is one learned. For the rest of our schools, it is a lesson that needs to be relearned, but carefully, as faculty cultures, once accustomed to the addiction of extra pay systems, are reluctant to part with them.

John Littleford
Senior Partner