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Teacher Shortage and Collective Bargaining

Rod Green, Ph.D.

By Rod Green, Ph.D. Consultant

DashBoard, June 10, 2020

Education and school leaders are facing uncertain times. No matter how many issues come forward I have found, for schools, it always comes down to teaching and learning. Teachers teaching and students learning. Teachers helping students be successful.

But what if we don’t have enough teachers to teach? What if there is a teaching shortage in our state and you can’t fill all of the teaching positions?

What is a teaching shortage anyway? The Learning Policy Institute defines a teacher shortage as “the inability to staff school at current wages with individuals qualified to teach in the fields required.”1 Are young people not going into the field of teaching because they perceive the profession doesn’t pay enough? Or there is not enough respect?

Many believe we have a teaching shortage. School districts are reporting that teaching positions are getting increasingly hard to fill. Numerous districts had unfilled positions at the beginning of the school year. Some districts have been forced to fill teaching positions with long-term substitutes. Attracting and retaining quality teachers is an issue most districts are facing every year.

So, what does a teaching shortage have to do with collective bargaining? You probably know that Michigan school districts are governed by the Public Employment Relations Act. This means that all issues regarding wages, hours and conditions of employment are mandatory subjects of bargaining. Any proactive measures to attract and retain teachers will come under the collective bargaining agreement and must be negotiated.

So, to address a potential teacher shortage, districts need to use the bargaining process to develop practical ways to attract and retain teachers. It is possible that the existing teachers in your district, and by extension the union bargaining team, won’t have this issue on their list for bargaining. But the district has an interest in attracting and retaining quality teachers and therefore, the district can advocate for certain measures, plans and programs to achieve this goal.

BEGINNING OF THE SALARY SCHEDULE

Many districts are addressing attracting new teachers to their districts by increasing the beginning steps or beginning few steps of the salary schedule. So, if you’re thinking a 1% increase on the salary schedule, you might consider a higher flat amount on the first couple steps. Here is an example from a contract negotiated last spring:

Add $1,500 to Step 1, $1,000 to Step 2, $900 to Step 3 on all lanes on the expiring 2018-2019 salary schedule. For new 2019-2020 salary schedule, increase the adjusted 2018-2019 salary schedule by 2% on all steps and lanes. Further adjust BA Step 1 only to $40,000. Refigure half steps to be halfway in between whole steps.

Oftentimes, the union bargaining team does not have “increasing the first few steps” on their list. They are usually interested in keeping things the same for everyone such as a 2% increase on every step and every lane. They might be more interested in the top of the salary schedule. However, bargaining is a mutual process and the district can certainly explain its reasoning behind increasing the beginning of the scale. The union leadership also has an interest in being more competitive in attracting quality teachers to the district and this mutual interest can come out in the bargaining process.

GRANTING EXPERIENCE FROM THE OUTSIDE

Some contracts limit how much experience can be granted for placement on the salary schedule. This is something to review and make sure that any restrictions in placement are reasonable. For example, a contract might say “up to 7 years teaching experience may be granted” so the person can be put on the appropriate step for their teaching experience up to Step 7. Or it might say “no more than actual teaching experience.” But, if it is a building trades teacher or a CTE mechatronics teacher, there may be a very limited pool of qualified individuals available and they may already be making more than Step 7 wages, or they might not have any teaching experience. In that case, an exception is needed. So, the district needs to inform the union and then a Letter of Agreement can be written to allow for an exception to the contract language. Here is an example:

Any teacher commencing service with the District shall be credited with no more than the actual prior teaching experience for placement on the salary schedule. This provision may not apply to teachers who are assigned in areas where certification is not available or it does not apply. In those instances, the District and Association will mutually agree on the salary placement of the new teacher.

It is important as well to make sure the language in your contract is not too restrictive in terms of granting experience and placement of new teachers on the salary schedule. If it is, the administration needs to propose different and less restrictive language for that portion of the contract to be more competitive to attract teachers for “hard to fill” positions.

INCENTIVES TO STAY—LONGEVITY

Most contracts reward staff for staying in the district. The salary schedule has steps, so each year a teacher remains, they move along on the salary schedule until they reach the top. Many districts also offer some type of longevity after teachers reach the top of the schedule. Longevity is a stipend in addition to normal salary for teachers on the top of the scale and can be an incentive to stay. Here is an example:

Bargaining unit members with at least twelve (12) years of service in the bargaining unit as of the end of the prior school year shall receive a longevity stipend in addition to their base salaries payable on or before Dec. 21 of each year, in accordance with the following schedule:

12-14 years completed: $400

15-19 years completed: $800

20 or more years completed: $1,200

INCENTIVES TO STAY—BEGINNING TEACHERS

Another strategy is to offer incentives to new teachers for staying at the beginning of their career. New teachers come in on the step granted and receive an additional stipend at the end of their fourth year.

For example:

Teachers hired for the 2019-2020 school year prior to Nov. 1, 2019 and who stay through the end of the 2022-2023 school year will be granted an additional stipend of $4,000 to be paid on the second pay in June 2023. Teachers hired after Nov. 1, 2019 and who stay through the end of the 2023-2024 school year will be granted an additional stipend of $4,000 to be paid on the second pay in June 2024.

CLASS SIZES

Teacher unions might say that lowering class sizes will help working conditions and would be an incentive to attract and retain teachers. Districts need to be careful putting in additional class size restrictions without knowing how the restrictions will affect staffing and the cost that will come with additional staff.

INVOLVING AND EMPOWERING STAFF

Valuing teachers is another way of helping to increase satisfaction in the profession. Many collective bargaining agreements dictate things like staff meetings, professional development, curriculum committees and so forth. Sometimes, this language is not helpful and does not get at the spirit of what you want to do, which is to collaborate with teachers on content of curriculum, professional development and communication. Language in the contract is not necessarily needed to provide an environment that helps teachers feel empowered and that is a big morale booster for any profession.

Overall, school leaders need to be aware of attracting and retaining teachers. Educational standards and student performance will only improve with a quality teaching staff with a low attrition rate. Of course, higher pay is a contributing factor in attracting teachers to the profession, but research also shows that empowering teachers will have an impact as well. Teachers who are empowered and valued will gain satisfaction from their work, see it as important and ultimately will stay in the profession. Utilizing the bargaining process and collective bargaining agreement is a great way to start improving our ability to attract and retain great teachers for our students.

1 Walker, T. Teacher shortage is ‘real and growing, and worse than we thought’, April 4, 2019. Retrieved from https://educationvotes.nea.org/2019/04/04/teacher-shortage-is-real-and-growing-and-worse-than-we-thought/, March 25, 2020.

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This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 LeaderBoard magazine. View the full issue here.

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