Your Salary and Why “Staff Mix” Matters


OSPI recently released its response to the EHB 2242 requirement that it provide salary grid recommendations for districts in the legislature’s new plan for funding educator salaries.

As a refresher: At it’s simplest, the legislature required that starting salaries at entry-level must be at least $40,000 per year, maximum salaries can start no higher than $90,000 per year, but regardless of those numbers, the average salary (allocation) per certificated staff member will sit at $64,000. In other words, no matter what a district chooses to pay its teachers, the state will only provide that district $64K per FTE cert staff.

By doling out a flat rate per teacher, the “staff mix” component of how schools were previously funded has been eliminated.

This is something all educators in Washington need to take notice of.

Staff mix is based on the reality that a district with more experienced staff (who receive higher pay on any salary schedule) will need a higher state allocation than a district with less experienced staff placed lower on that schedule. The Olympia School District did a great job of articulating the problem with eliminating staff mix: Districts staffed with experienced teachers will not receive adequate funding to pay teacher salaries. The illustrative scenarios below are drawn directly from the OSD’s communication about the fiscal impact of the loss of staff mix on their district alone:

  • DISTRICT A has 100 teachers, and all 100 are early career teachers. As a result, District A receives more than adequate state funding to staff its schools. In fact, it receives more than it needs.
  • DISTRICT B has 100 teachers, with roughly 50 more experienced than average and 50 less experienced than the state average (not the district average). District B received exactly the right amount of state funding to adequately fund salaries.
  • DISTRICT C has 100 teachers, with roughly 70 on the more-experienced side and 30 on the less-experienced side. Provided only a flat rate per teacher, the district cannot afford to pay salaries for experienced staff.

It’s a mess: When the state funds based on an average (rather than staff mix), those 90K salaries are a smokescreen for the unfortunate reality that such a model basically requires that large numbers of teachers cycle out of the profession well before they achieve that 90K salary in order for the state’s flat-rate model to be sustainable. A compensation model that banks on high rates of teacher turnover in order to even work doesn’t seem like it is addressing the actual problem of compensating teachers in a way that recruits and retains the best. The only other guaranteed option is to simply pay every teacher the exact same salary. That might seem the simple and logical solution, but let’s pause to consider the impact this would have on recruiting and retaining quality teachers who in other work sectors in the real world would expect their pay to increase with added experience, training, and expertise.

(While we’re on the topic, here are my thoughts on why it matters to pay teachers more.) 

The OLD salary allocation model, even with its flaws (including small numbers), at least based salary allocations on who that school actually employed. That allocation, based on actual staff numbers and experience levels, meant that even two districts with the exact same number of teachers, might receive different total allocations from the state because one staff might have a different “mix” of teachers with different levels of experience or advanced credits.

While responding to the legislature’s mandate to produce model salary grids for districts to consider, Superintendent Reykdal makes the point succinctly: “In the absence of a ‘staff mix’ factor that was eliminated by the Legislature beginning next school year, drafting a sample salary grid for districts has little meaning” (Source) If the state only funds $64K per teacher, per year, there is no “prototypical salary grid” that will make sense given that every single district in the state has a different staff mix.

I reiterate, it is a mess. In the coming legislative session, we as educators need to help our leaders understand what a mess they’ve created…and that restoring staff mix to the funding formula is a simple, do-able solution.

10 thoughts on “Your Salary and Why “Staff Mix” Matters

  1. Beth

    Thanks for your comments, Mark. Not only is eliminating the staff mix factor a problem, so is the regionalization factor. At least the way it currently is allocated is not accurate, and in some areas teachers will leave to teach in a neighboring district with a higher factor. It is not at all what it should be for the cost of living on the islands where we can’t choose to live where housing costs are lower.

    1. Mark

      Yes–whereas in my district (which has a higher regionalization factor than neighbors) we do have options for living further away, where costs of living are lower. I live 20 miles outside the district I teach in…mainly because when we were in the market to buy a house over a decade ago, property in my work district was way beyond our means (and even though I’m now cresting the salary schedule, property in my home district is still beyond our means). Instead, we bought 20 miles and two districts away, and paid easily half of what we’d pay for the same property up the river in my work district. I had options–not everyone does.

  2. Mary

    This salary model institutionalizes age discrimination by giving districts incentive to hire inexperienced (young) teachers and disincentive to hire experienced (older) teachers. Districts already practice age discrimination. This would nearly guarantee it. How is that consistent with democratic values?

    1. Mark

      All the more reason why the state should appropriately fund based on staff mix. Even if it isn’t to the same grain size as the old SAM, there needs to be some recognition at the state funding-source level that paying for expertise and experience is a good investment.

    2. Suzanne

      Put it this way: Experience matters! The movie, Sully, portrays a true situation where a major airline crash averted catastrophic fatalities by flying it into the Hudson River. All lives were saved because the pilot, Sully, was toward the end of his career with years and years of practice. Similarly, older teachers are valuable, because their years of experience often provide valuable teaching strategies which not only help students, but they also willingly share knowledge and skills with less experienced teachers. I met a principal at a conference whose most experienced teacher was only a few years into the profession. Her school was really struggling. This is especially important in Title 1 Schools. Experienced teachers provide teacher leadership, and they should be compensated more.

  3. Jessie Towbin

    Thank you so much for writing this piece. I thought I had read all of the information about the new SAM closely when it was first passed, but I see now that I completely missed the removal of the “staff mix” allocation! As a teacher with 22 years and MA+90, I long since maxed out on the old salary schedule. I have no desire to leave the classroom, but psychic income doesn’t pay the bills. If the goal is to drive out the most experienced teachers, this plan is sure to work.

    In solidarity,

    1. Mark

      It wasn’t on my radar either at first, and it didn’t really hit home until I saw numbers like those Olympia Schools put out. Troubling to say the least!

  4. Gretchen Cruden

    Here is how I worry things will play out in our district…Our school board will decide to take the $64,000 per teacher and reduce our pay so they may hire a fourth teacher. We are a K-8 school with just three teachers. We do not have enough students to qualify for a fourth teacher currently, but would perhaps attract more students if the grade-bands were reduced to just two grades per room to be able to actually have four teachers in the next few years. Or not and low pay will just become the norm. Putting the power for allocating salaries into the hands of school boards seems like a fatal move for rural schools. I am worried.

    1. Mark

      A new, horrible wrinkle I hadn’t even considered. Lynne’s recent piece on about rural schools amplifies exactly why that scenario you describe is such a problem.

  5. Robyn

    This is really clarifying and helpful – thanks, Mark! Having a diverse mix of teacher experience level makes such an enormous difference in the success of a school. I’m so grateful for the support and guidance of long-time teachers when I was just starting. I recently taught in a school where nearly all teachers were new to the profession, and it just doesn’t work. I fear this will be more and more the case with this new allocation model.

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