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OPINION

R.I. District Gives Teachers Annual 11.2% Raise, with No Demand for Improved Performance

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

It pays to work for the government.

Just ask the teachers in the Westerly, Rhode Island school district. The school committee just agreed to a new union collective bargaining agreement that doubles teachers’ pay in nine years.

Perhaps all the news we’ve been hearing about government schools lacking funds has been exaggerated.

The pay raises will come through adjustments to the annual teacher “step salary” schedule. There will now be nine steps up the salary ladder instead of 11, and each step will pay teachers more money than in the past. A lot more, in fact.

According to the Westerly Sun, a first-year teacher in Westerly currently makes $40,351. In nine years, under the new contract, that same teacher will make $81,094. That number would likely grow higher in succeeding contracts, but just assuming for a moment it doesn’t, that would equate to more than a 100 percent increase in base pay in nine years.

In other words, teachers would enjoy an 11.2 percent average raise annually, or $4,527 per year.

Do the teachers deserve it? Perhaps. Can the Westerly school district afford it? We have to assume it can.

But how can such a lavish pay package be approved without any corresponding criteria for increased teacher effectiveness and student performance? Raises are supposed to reward excellent performance, or at least create an incentive to meet certain benchmarks. That’s not the case in Westerly.

This is the way most government school districts operate. Pay continues to increase each year – with annual “step raises” as well as general raises – but increased goals for teacher effectiveness are generally not written into labor contracts.

Teachers are compensated for how long they’ve been in the system, not their positive impact on student learning. It’s been that way for years and it’s a concept Big Labor fiercely defends.

School Committee Chairman David Patten justified the huge pay hike by saying, “What we tried to do as a philosophy was to reward teachers who step up and take up additional assignments. In effect, that’s pay for performance. You’re rewarding teachers who step up and take extra duties.”

The trouble with a step schedule is everyone is paid the same, so the teachers who “take up additional assignments” are compensated the same as those who don’t.

The new contract was narrowly approved 4-3 by the school committee.

Committee member Gina Fuller, who voted against the contract, told the Sun, “The elimination of (two) steps did nothing to adjust payroll in any way, shape or form. Not only are they receiving increases each year, the actual salary for each step increased. The point of eliminating steps wasn’t achieved in this.”

All four committee members who voted for the contract were supported by the teachers union in their election campaigns, according to the news report.

Coincidence?

These are the types of anti-taxpayer deals that develop when the union elects its employers.

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