Understanding the Teacher Salary Steps and the Triborough Effect

by Optimization with an Impact (OpIm)

The Triborough Effect
Teacher salary schedules in NewYork State typically include 20 to 30 annual pay “steps” on each of at least four “lanes”-for teachers with bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, master’s plus 30 credits of graduate credits, and a master’s plus 60 credits. The following is a simplified example; many districts actually have more steps and lanes than shown here.  Most teachers spend most of their careers moving up salary steps-and, occasionally, across salary lanes-even if their union contract has expired, because the Triborough Amendment guarantees these changes. As a result, a school district’s salary cost rise even when union negotiations have reached impasse and there is no new contract. For the same reason, contract settlements calling for seemingly modest, inflation level increases in base salaries can be far more costly than they look. This is especially true in districts with predominantly younger teaching staffs.Figure 8 illustrates the projected 10-year pay history of a newly hired teacher, fresh out of college, working in a district with a salary schedule matching the reported medians for all Suffolk County districts in 2006-07. Assuming the teacher earns a master’s degree within two years-a prerequisite for certification-and assuming all base salary steps also increase annually by 2.6 percent under the union contract, her salary by Step 6 will reach $68,753, a pay boost of 58 percent after five years. Even if the salary schedule is frozen at 2006-07 levels due to a contract impasse, the Triborough Law guarantees that the Step 6 salary for a certified teacher with the same level of experience will reach $60,472, an increase of 39 percent in five years.  Earning 30 more graduate or “in-service” credits by the end of her sixth year will move the teacher up yet another lane on the salary schedule. Assuming a continued annual inflation level increases in base steps, the salary for this teacher in the “Masters + 30” lane by Step 10 will reach $100,687-an increase of 132 percent after 10 years on the job. Even if the salary schedule remained frozen throughout the period, Triborough would guarantee that the teacher’s pay by Step 10 reached $77,893-an increase of 79 percent from Step 1. By tacking on another 30 graduate or in-service credits during this period, the teacher could move to the “Masters + 60” lane and climb the ladder even faster, reaching $122,000 in her 11th year assuming continued inflation-level increases in base salaries. Higher pay for most public schools teachers is based solely on two factors: continued employment and extra training. But these are measures of inputs, not outcomes. According to the 2007 annual survey by the New York State School Boards Association, less than 2 percent of school districts said they based pay on performance, and only 9 percent said they used extra pay incentives to attract highly qualified teachers to their classrooms.  Few districts have even experimented with “performance pay” or other productivity measures, because unions and school administrators inevitably disagree over the outcome measures to be used in evaluating performance. However, it remains clear that any outcome measure, whatever its failings, would be a better measure of performance than longevity and added training alone.

-E.J. McMahon