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In December I was informed that the OPRF High School board was holding a meeting to discuss increasing the tax levy. Seemingly, this important issue was to be discussed with minimal notice to the community. I searched the OPRF website seeking information.
While at the website, I discovered another matter regarding the district's use of public funds that concerns me — faculty compensation.
Findings from the faculty salary schedule
- 16% of faculty earn a total annual compensation of $130,000 or more
- An additional 9% of faculty earn between $120,000 and $130,000
- 3 faculty earn more than $146,000
- 6 faculty earn between $140,000 and $145,000
From the faculty contract
- A teacher at OPRF with a B.A. degree and no teaching experience is hired at a base salary (not including athletic, activity, summer school stipends) of nearly $55,000
- A teacher with a master's degree and no experience is hired at over $58,000; a teacher without experience, a master's degree and 30 additional credits earns nearly $63,000.
We all want the best for our children, but these premium salaries are out of line with the market and haven't resulted in the best outcome for our children. OPRF's overall performance has proven to be, at best, average.
It is true that a great teacher is worth his/her weight in gold, as is a great nurse or a great cleric or a great first responder. But there is no known cause-and-effect relationship between paying a teacher excessively and in return receiving a better education. Oak Park elementary teachers work as hard as OPRF teachers do. They earn a base salary between $42,000 and $97,000.
Anyone who has lived in Oak Park during a school referendum may know the arguments of those lobbying for the referendum. Some may try to rationalize OPRF's excessive compensation through the following specious arguments:
- "We want the best teachers for our children, so we have to offer high salaries." Long before the recession, OPRF had many well-qualified applicants for every teaching vacancy. Presently, there are likely thousands of devoted and skilled teachers who would be thrilled to work at OPRF for less than the current scale.
- "Oak Park will not attract families without the best schools." Perhaps good schools do bring families to the area, but there is no evidence that paying teachers excessively makes a better school. Consider how educational outcomes might truly improve if OPRF shifted 10 percent from teacher/administrator salaries into evidence-based programs to reduce academic disparities or address the needs of students with poor psycho-social functioning.
Try an experiment. Ask your OPRF grad to take a look at the teacher salary schedule for their teachers who earned over $120,000 a year. Then ask if those teachers were worth it. This experiment may be even more poignant for your grad if they realize that when they enter the job market with comparable college degrees, they will be lucky to find a job for $40,000 a year and benefits.
Or conduct an assessment yourself. In your opinion were your children's $120,000 and above salaried teachers worth the compensation paid them? Consider how these teacher salaries compare to yours, in particular given that most of us work 12 months a year and have 2-3 weeks' vacation.
This teacher contract is a done deal. In 2014 OPRF teacher salaries need to be brought into line with what the market warrants. There may only be one way to bring this about — through greater transparency and concerned community stakeholder involvement.
If OPRF negotiations remain behind closed doors, we will continue to only feather the faculty/administrator nest and do ourselves and our children a disservice.
Allan Bernstein is a resident of Oak Park.