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The Faculty Salary Challenge: Not Just How Much, But How?

Ladder, Band and Range Considerations and the School’s Philosophy of Compensation

In independent schools, the four key elements of compensation planning are: the philosophy of compensation; the salary delivery system; the benefits structure; and the level of cash.

Through interviews with over 27,000 teachers and 3000 heads of school over the past 15 years, Littleford and Associates has learned that most schools focus on faculty benefits and the annual percentage increase in salaries. They totally overlook the first and most important two elements of compensation: philosophy and salary delivery system. These speak to the school’s mission and direction.

    1. The Philosophy of Compensation

The philosophy of compensation is not simply a statement that the school’s goal for faculty salaries is to be within the top 20% of similar regional and national NAIS schools.

The compensation philosophy addresses the following question: Who is the school trying to attract and retain? These may be young, mid career or senior teachers from a local, regional or national pool. It may be singles or teachers with families. The school may be seeking teachers with talents in specific disciplines or the “triple threat” teacher, advisor and coach.

The compensation philosophy also delivers to the faculty the important message of what qualities it values in its teaching professionals. It can be a powerful tool for communicating and affirming the mission and vision of the school.

An appropriate philosophy of compensation may be tied to quality of life of middle class dignity in a specific community, assuming the teacher has a spouse or partner. Beginning salaries might well be tied to the cost of renting a one bedroom apartment. For example, in some moderate expense areas of California, that figure approaches $1500 a month. The banking industry would suggest that an apartment at that price requires a salary of $50,000.

    1. The Salary Delivery System.

Individual Negotiation? Scale? Band? Ladder? Range? Does this “system” accurately reflect the school’s goals and philosophy for attracting and retaining teachers?

      1. “Negotiated” Salaries

A majority of independent school heads have the authority to effect modest change in a teacher’s compensation by annually exercising some degree of judgment. That judgment may come from substantive feedback from division heads, department heads and a concrete written evaluation process. In some cases, it may be subtly influenced by informal factors such as rumor, innuendo and the car pool line.

The word “merit pay” is still associated in the minds of most people with “discretionary” pay. This is still practiced by the majority of school heads though with little pomp. Most of the surveys conducted each year by Littleford & Associates indicate that heads are happier with this system than those whose schools have “lock step” scales.

However, heads may not be aware of the risks of age and sex discrimination when inequities occur over time in “discretionary” pay decisions that are not documented for performance related reasons. In other words, there may not be an audit trail of evaluation or reasoning for these differential pay judgments other than the market was better for teachers one year than another. Perhaps the head’s own informal sources of information affected those salary decisions. In some cases, it was a former head’s judgment that affected salary decisions and the current head has no clue as to why the current pattern exists.

      1. Scales

In about thirty percent of our schools, heads have given up any flexibility or judgment in the annual salary increase decision. These schools have published scales, most with a number of longevity based steps and a column for an M.A. degree, additional graduate credits and rarely, a Ph.D. degree. These heads rely exclusively on titles, stipends, added assignments, professional growth dollars, summer stipends and other “soft” signals to reward faculty for perceived or formally evaluated performance. In hiring new teachers from the marketplace, on the other hand, they are able to exercise, and in many cases are required to exercise, a modicum of flexibility.

Schools using scales have opted to reward performance only through heavier workloads, extra assignments, extra curricular pay, stipends, quasi administrative positions, summer grants, and other tools which may or may not be helpful to the school in the long term. These techniques may or may not be healthy for teachers as they age, have families and wonder about whether the School assigns any significant monetary value to the teaching process itself.

      1. The Movement Towards “Bands”

A growing number of schools, now about twenty percent, use some form of “band”, “range” or “ladder” to make compensation changes. “Band”, “range” or “ladder” salary delivery systems acknowledge some compensation movement for length of service but also recognize others forms of contributions. Some of these systems are published and some are not.

A “ladder” structure is not unlike a university system of instructor, assistant professor, associate professor and full professor. Many schools use titles such as “teacher”, “experienced teacher”, “senior teacher”, “master teacher” and “faculty leader.”

A “band” is a pattern with a top side and bottom end, and all teachers are paid in or around this “band” based on individual or group criteria.

A “range” system may provide for a minimum level of compensation for each year of experience or cohort of experience, but no maximum. Maximum salaries are left open for meeting other criteria. A range may be combined as well with a scale, so that each specific year on the scale has a beginning, mid point and top figure as a sliding number along this range.

Now a number of schools use the NAIS “cohorts’ of 0-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25 (or higher) as the key elements of a “band” and publish the minimum and/or maximum salaries within those “bands” or “cohorts.” However, these systems may leave open the tools by which the school may move a teacher within that band. Longevity alone and advanced degrees alone do not provide for progression. There are usually other elements or criteria.

These “banding” systems may provide for movement vertically on a ladder based on longevity but usually with fewer steps. They ALSO allow for movement ACROSS the band or ladder for other types of recognized strengths:

        1. Quality of teaching in the classroom as evaluated over time by a team of evaluators and using published researched based criteria;
        2. Workload recognition, avoiding the slippery slope of extra curricular pay and stipends;
        3. Recognition for professional growth and/or innovative teaching;
        4. Proven mentoring and nurturing of one’s peers;
        5. Service as an outstanding counselor or advisor;
        6. Assuming significant leadership and committee roles;
        7. Reflecting a consistent and obvious support of school mission, as well as parent and community relations.
    1. The Rules of the Game in Flexible Compensation

The key to all of these discussions of more flexible compensation plans are the following essential tools:

      1. A well defined, understood and agreed upon definition of a full time job. Most independent school teachers regard TIME and STRESS as their key issues. Many teachers with 5 or 6 classes and extra assignments regard themselves as overburdened with time demands AS do teachers at schools where the load is 3 or 4 classes a day with no clear expectation of extra curricular assignments. Teachers become accustomed to their own “norm” or pattern.

Many teachers quote to this consultant that they teach four or five “courses” but this follow up question is key: Do these classes meet every day? Or is there a 6 day schedule or some rotating schedule which reduces actual class time so that the actual number of 50 minute classes a day is 3 or 4? These are the schools that have the more comfortable workloads unless there is a substantial extracurricular load required during school or other after school duty assignments.

      1. A credible, consistent evaluation process based on published, research based criteria and a trained evaluation team of 2-3 administrators and teachers. Such evaluations need to be based mostly on unannounced visits. There must be a sufficient number to make them an accurate reflection of classroom quality, not a “snap shot.” Professional growth and staff development dollars need to be tied to, and result from, information gleaned from the evaluation process. Test scores are not a part of this process, whereas organized student feedback should be.
      2. Clarity in the compensation philosophy and salary structure such that teachers know the “rules of the game”, and how to get ahead financially. It should not be a secret or a mystery for teachers to figure out how to advance themselves financially in the school.
      3. A benefit package that is flexible enough to provide different opportunities for teachers based on their age, experience, family status and career level. The same dollars can be expended differently in very creative benefit design systems.

The important “understandings” underlying flexible compensation plans are the following:

      1. Teachers care greatly about predictability of future earning power. They are not risk takers as a rule, but care givers. As such, many do not know their own exact salaries when asked. That reflects the fact that most do not focus on money. Generally teachers prefer salary scales.
      2. Teachers ALSO need and want to know how to influence their own future earning power as their family circumstances and needs change. They have learned that the ways to affect their earning power include: extra curricular pay; stipends, administrative titles; tutoring; more graduate credits; and years of experience. They need to know and rely upon OTHER elements that may prove far more important to the quality of the School, and their accountability to the School’s mission.
      3. Teachers care most about salary “structures” or formal “systems” when they feel they are underpaid. They care far less about the “structure” or salary “system” if they feel well paid by comparison to local public and independent schools.
      4. Teachers who feel well paid “do not ask and do not tell” peers about compensation. Teachers who feel underpaid, or unfairly paid, frequently ask others about their own compensation and share compensation information more readily.

Band and range salary systems help to provide a balance between the old “discretionary” systems and the rigid public school salary scales.

    1. Summary

Flexibility in compensation IS still possible, viable, and supportable IF the rules of the game are defined, accepted and understood. Performance factors may indeed influence salaries within bands, ranges and ladder systems. However, it must be done openly, honestly and based on documented performance which must and can be explained and defended.

Performance or banding opportunities may provide for:

      1. Annual increases in base pay
      2. Movement along a range
      3. Movement across a ladder
      4. Movement within a band
      5. Lump sum payments in June based on individual, group, team or whole faculty performance
      6. Professional growth expenditures for summer grants, sabbaticals, travel opportunities for either individual teachers or teams of teachers working on common or collaborative projects

Littleford and Associates has over 600 clients worldwide on the topic of faculty compensation. We can assist your school in assessing your current faculty compensation and benefits systems and evaluating alternatives that include introducing flexibility into traditional models.

John Littleford
Senior Partner