CPS pay starts high, ends low

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Chicago’s teacher salary schedule makes the city a great place to start teaching but a much less attractive place to stay.

That is the picture painted by a Catalyst analysis of the number of teaching jobs in area school districts that pay more than Chicago does and the number of teaching jobs in districts that pay less.

In the six-county metropolitan region, beginning elementary teachers have few better-paying alternatives to Chicago, and the city offers fairly competitive pay for beginning high school teachers.

But for seasoned veterans, most teaching jobs in the six-county region pay more than Chicago. For elementary teachers, the top of Chicago’s pay scale is below average, but for high school teachers, it’s bottom of the barrel. Only 3 percent of the region’s high school teaching jobs have a lower top salary than Chicago.

“That is our problem,” says Deborah Lynch, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. “We can get ’em, but we can’t keep ’em.”

Lynch says that of 1,650 teachers who left the system during the 2000-2001 school year, only 6 percent were retirees.

A 1999 Catalyst analysis of School Board data found that 30 percent of teachers new to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) leave within the first five years.

Those numbers reflect a national pattern, where teachers start their careers in urban centers but then leave for higher-paying jobs in the suburbs, says Thomas Carroll, executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “By not paying those teachers a competitive salary, you lose the most seasoned educators,” he says.

Working conditions also play a large role in teachers’ decisions to move, he says, but “pay is at least as important to teachers as to any other worker.”

This pattern carries educational costs for districts like Chicago. “Teachers increase in effectiveness steadily over the course of their first years of teaching, for up to eight years,” says Carroll.

In effect, cities like Chicago are subsidizing the training of suburban teachers, he says. “Teachers are getting their training and professional development in Chicago, and then they’re moving to one of your suburbs, Naperville or wherever, and they’re taking their experience with them.”

Typically, they wind up working longer hours, though. Chicago elementary teachers work a 5½- hour day, compared to a state average of 6 hours, 21 minutes, according to a 2002 analysis by the Chicago Tribune.

A similar situation figured in contract talks in New York City last year. In return for a large raise, teachers agreed to work an extra 100 minutes each week.