Hiring, Firing, and then Hiring Some More

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There was some good news for teachers in Oklahoma this week, some bad news for teachers in Chicago and an excellent analysis of it all from two reporters in Minnesota.

In the Sooner State, the state Senate's major budget writing committee approved a proposal from Governor Brad Henry to raise teacher salaries in the next five years to the regional average of $39,136 from $34,877.

The winds of change were blowing in the opposite direction in the Windy City, where the Board of Education announced Tuesday that 2,200 teaching positions will be eliminated, thanks to a $100 million deficit facing the system. According to The Chicago Tribune some of the positions being cut are not currently filled and others are positions from which people are retiring or resigning. Could Chicago be taking a page out of Philadelphia's book and trying to dump those costly salaries of the most experienced teachers? We'll have to see how this plays out but don't be surprised if a majority of those new hires were born after the Ford Administration.

Finally, Minneapolis Star reporters James Walsh and Ron Nixon have written a strong, insightful piece on whether that city's recent teacher layoffs and others around the state may actually be the fallout of rising teacher salaries and the rigid limitations of the salary scale. Walsh and Nixon identify a pattern whereby many districts end up laying off large numbers of teachers a year or two after salary hikes.

Take, for in stance, St. Paul's school district, which several years ago negotiated a pay increase of $13.2 million for 2001-2003 only to now face a $12 million deficit for 2004-2005. Even when raises are not negotiated, raises in the form of additional and automatic bonuses for years of service and graduate degrees exact a costly toll on school districts. As the teacher force has gotten older (two-thirds of the teachers in Minnesota are over 40) and thus more expensive, and enrollment and revenues have dropped, hiring young teachers becomes impossible and more often than not, layoffs appear inevitable.

Due to seniority rules, the first to go, as we have seen time and time again, are young teachers. "When it comes to teachers and their salaries," reflected John Klarich, superintendent of schools in Nashwauk-Keewatin, "They eat their young."