All schools are under pressure to pay more dollars to teachers, both to those currently employed and to those being recruited from the marketplace. Independent and international schools are employing all kinds of new tools to entice teachers to stay or join including housing subsidies or options, signing and retention bonuses, more generous even if more costly tuition remission, a larger professional development budget etc.
With all good intentions and in their eagerness and need to attract and retain quality faculty, schools are making a mistake here. They are modifying salary systems on the run to meet current demands, equity issues or market-based trends. This usually happens with very little consideration about whether these systems and options are mission consistent, financially viable in the long run, and consistent from year to year or from one head to another.
Schools need to develop a mission-based philosophy of compensation which is not a statement that reads for example: “To be in the top 10% of national, regional or local school competition.” Such a statement reflects a dog chasing its tail. Everyone would like to be in the top 10% but that is generally not feasible or in any way reflective of a school’s unique mission.
All schools should now be examining whether they have now or can develop a truly-mission based philosophy of compensation and from that, build a salary system, a benefits package and a performance management/evaluation/growth set of protocols that all fit together and will meet the long-term needs of the school.
Here is one example of a philosophy of compensation from the Browning School in NYC:
“The Mission of The Browning School is to foster the growth of courageous and compassionate men of intellect and integrity who aspire to contribute meaningfully to our world. Our faculty is committed to enabling this growth by upholding our care values of honesty, curiosity, dignity, and purpose. They are devoted to providing best-in-class teaching, mentoring, and coaching of boys inside and outside the classroom. They develop their teaching craft through practical experience and by advancing their own education, while also engaging in activities that enhance their ability to lead and mentor others and contribute to our community.
The Browning School’s compensation system is designed to attract and retain faculty members who meet these standards and to reward them fairly for their performance, initiative and growth and their dedication to the school. Our structure is designed to be transparent, with clearly delineated metrics that describe the mission-aligned skills and accomplishments that faculty members must attain as they move through the tiers. Through ongoing dialogue with their supervisors, faculty members should be well informed about their place in the structure and what is needed to advance within it.”
The first paragraph is a restatement of the School’s mission but the second is clearly a well thought out philosophy of compensation. That formed the basis for creating a mission-based salary system.
A philosophy of compensation should indicate what kind of teacher a school wants and equally as important and even if subtly conveyed, the kind of teacher a school may not want. For example, a boarding school that operates under the “triple threat” model of teaching, coaching and advising may not recruit a teacher with no interest in participating in the athletic program.
A philosophy of compensation outlines the factors that will affect a teacher’s compensation growth over time and refers to the salary system that will further those goals. Here is another example from the Community School of Naples in Florida:
“Community School of Naples seeks to attract, develop, and retain employees that are committed to academic excellence and the preparation of students to become engaged learners and responsible global citizens. The School aims to advance a faculty capable of delivering best-in-class teaching, mentoring, and coaching of students inside and outside of the classroom. Community School of Naples recognizes the need for a competitive wage based on experience, skillsets possessed, and job function(s) performed by an employee. Further, the School must remain vigilant in offering attractive wages and benefits.
In recognition that there are continuums of experience, skills development, and professional realities, Community School of Naples classifies experience and identifies demonstrable traits, attitudes, and behaviors that measurably deliver desired teaching, mentoring, and coaching attributes in support of the School’s mission.
The School also values contributions to the mission that exceed expectations, for which discretionary compensation is awarded. An employee’s total compensation may include base salary; additional salary for recognized, extended responsibilities (stipends); fringe benefits; bonuses (meritorious); professional development; and other tangible and intangible benefits attributable to the School. An ongoing compensation dialogue between an employee and his/her supervisor is necessary so that reasonable expectations and paths to achievement can be developed. The performance evaluation system and external conditions provide input for compensation increases as individual and environmental milestones are reached. “
Again, in this version there is a detailed outline of expectations for teachers and the range of factors that will be considered in hiring and advancing teachers over time.
Each school should have its own philosophy of compensation that reflects a unique mission, history, faculty culture, and financial status. Herein lies a huge opportunity for conversation, dialogue and collaboration among leadership, faculty, and boards.
Sometimes heads and business managers feeling financial pressures and board reluctance to raise tuition ask their peers for ideas of salary systems that might work in this new more competitive environment. Our answer to this quandary is not to adopt another school’s salary system but establish a process to develop its own based on a clear mission-based compensation philosophy which in turn drives the salary system or the creation of a new one.
There is probably no more important role for school heads than finding and keeping talented professionals. For boards there may not be too many more important roles than ensuring the integrity of the mission and the quality of the academic, fine arts and athletic programs which also reflect the core values that the school espouses. Boards have a right to know how the faculty hiring process works and how teachers’ compensation is modified from year to year because they should know how up to 85% of a school’s budget is spent.
Boards should not know the individual salaries of teachers or administrators except perhaps the salary of the CFO and one or two other key personnel. This is because the Board’s only direct report is (or should be) the head of school.
No matter what term is used, “evaluation” means both accountability, feedback growth and grounded affirmation. Boards also have a right to know how that system functions.
The bottom line is that boards, administration, and teachers should all be able to engage in a careful deliberative dialogue about how the school can spend its scarce resources in ways that are mission based, financially sustainable, market relevant, and reasonably transparent and equitable. Teachers need both some predictability of future earning power and appropriate ways to influence it.