In an earlier post, I discussed creative ways to pay Catholic school teachers to secure their services or keep them in the fold, recognizing that often what we can afford to pay is not what area private schools or public schools can offer. Those ways included giving signing bonuses for new teachers, offering low cost rent options using property owned by the Church but no longer used, and offering merit bonuses. I continue to believe each of these is an effective outreach and have used each in my ministry as a Catholic school principal.
Since writing that article, I am now principal of a new school in a new diocese. Unlike my previous diocese, this one does not have a “diocesan pay scale” from which I must pay teachers. Nor does my school’s Board of Trustees dictate a pay scale for our school. Instead, the Board approves a line item in the budget for “salaries” and I have complete freedom within that budget to pay teachers as I see fit, depending on their value to the school and the “market forces” at work for their particular position.
I have found this lack of a prescribed template extremely liberating, and truth be told, in the best interest of the school I serve. In my previous school, I often lost out on the battle for a fine teacher candidate, simply because the salaries I could pay that person paled in comparison to what others were offering. I didn’t go down within a fight, however! I would often “scaffold” his or her salary offer by including a laundry list of non-teaching stipends (coaching, extra-curricular clubs, etc) as a means of approximating market rates. I won some and I lost some. But the truth is, I was waging battle beginning with the self-inflicted wound of a pay scale that worked for some disciplines but not for others.
Let me be specific. Catholic schools have always had the greatest difficulty securing and retaining good science teachers, especially in the physical sciences (Chemistry and Physics). The reasons are simple: What a young graduate in the physical sciences can make in the corporate/business world dwarfs what Catholic school pay scales usually dictate for first year teachers. Depending on the source, the average beginning salary for a person with a B.S. in Physics in the corporate world is between 45K and 60K whereas most Catholic school pay scales currently begin in the high 20’s or low to mid 30’s. And that gap widens as that person gains experience as a scientist! By contrast, when we have an open position in English or History, we are overwhelmed with highly qualified candidates, some with PhD’s, most who are willing to work within the salary scales common to our schools.
Let me guess what some of you may be thinking: Is it just to pay some of our teachers more than others? Are we saying that the cracker-jack English teacher is less deserving of higher wages than teachers in our science department? I’d say “No, the cracker-jack English teacher is not less deserving.” But let me quickly add: If a school has a true maestro teaching English, they’d be wise to compensate that person generously, because they are a rare and great gift to the school! And in a school unconstrained by a pay scale, such maestros can be rapidly rewarded by higher than average increases in salary in successive years of teaching. But I believe it is foolhardy to insist that the beginning teaching salaries for English and Physics teachers should be the same. Once they’re in the fold, without a pay scale to hamstring them, principals can make rational judgments about relative worth and adjust salaries accordingly down the road.
In the world we live in, those with science degrees get paid more than those with degrees in Arts and Letters. As an Arts and Letters guy myself, I was painfully aware of that reality when I decided to major in theology, and reminded of it every time someone asked me “What are you going to do with a theology major, become a priest?”
Insisting on a common pay scale artificially inflates what we need to pay some incoming teachers, or (more commonly) artificially deflates what we should offer others. Abolish pay scales. They don’t help us.