Some Houston ISD teachers at schools in Superintendent Mike Miles’ New Education System were upset Monday morning to wake up to contract offers with lower salaries than what they expected and, in some cases, lower than what they earned before.
Miles has said since he arrived June 1 that teachers at the 28 NES schools, mostly in northeast Houston, will make an average of about $85,000 per year, a statement that appears to hold true after salary tables were released over the weekend. A wide pay range, however, will see some educators, such as elementary elective teachers, make $63,000 while a third-grade reading teacher at the same school will earn at least $20,000 more.
The previous, traditional salary schedule did not differentiate teachers’ pay based on grade level or subject matter.
Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said such disparities “disenfranchise” educators, saying teachers “come to work together as a team to make students successful, and to value one more than the other is not a good way to build a cohesive unit or foster morale.”
Miles, however, says districts need to “maximize their effectiveness by aligning compensation to what they value.”
[Miles] noted that for a majority of NES teachers, the salaries will be significantly higher than what they would have received otherwise, even before taking the $10,000 stipends that teachers will also receive into account.
“That’s a pretty doggone good salary, even for experienced, veteran teachers,” Miles said.
At least one longtime teacher, however, was offered a salary lower than what she would have received under the previous salary schedule.
“If I had known I was going to take a pay cut, I wouldn’t have applied for that position,” said the 30-year veteran, an elective teacher at an NES high school who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
The elective teacher was set to make $80,500 next year under the old payment plan. On Monday morning, she woke up to a contract offer sent the night before for $77,000. The teacher said she likely would have retired had she known about the pay cut, but because the salary tables were posted online after the July 14 deadline to resign, she feels she has no choice but to carry on.
The $10,000 stipend offered to NES teachers does little to soften the blow, she said.
“I don’t work for a stipend — I work because I love what I do,” she said. “The paycheck looks good when you give us the stipend, but if you’re going to cut my regular pay, then that’s a problem. It’s a sign of disregard for us with experience.”
Miles has previously stated that no NES teacher would earn less than they did the year before, and when asked about the teacher’s case, he said it was likely due to a mistake in the human resources office, where 40 positions were cut earlier this month as part of a massive reorganization of the central office. He denied that the reorganization had anything to do with the error and said the teacher should raise the issue up the proper “chain of decision-making” so that the situation can be rectified.
He has said supporting teachers is critical to the success of the NES program, which, in addition to generally higher salaries and stipends, provides them with prepared lesson plans along with “teacher apprentices” and “learning coaches,” who handle noninstructional duties such as making copies and grading papers.
But some teachers say the criteria by which their salaries were decided was never made clear to them. One teacher at a different NES high school, who also requested anonymity, said he has worked in the district for six years and expected to make $85,000, as that was the average number that has been presented since Miles was appointed superintendent June 1.
Instead, he woke up to a contract offer for $83,000, $2,000 above the minimum for a teacher of government, economics and AP courses with three years of experience. He described the opaque process as “trying to fly a plane while building the plane.”
“I’m appreciative (for the higher salary), but I’m also disheartened, because how this process has played out has been piecemeal and they’re cutting corners,” the teacher said.
The teacher said educators across the district relied on a draft of a salary table for NES middle school teachers — shared at an informational meeting with administrators last month — to make an educated guess as to what their own pay would look like. When the salary table for NES middle schools was posted online over the weekend, however, those salaries were all $2,000 lower than what was presented.
Miles said he was unaware of a different salary table being distributed and that the salary tables have not changed.
Let me state up front that the non-positive experience of two employees doesn’t mean that everything is messed up. There’s not enough data to draw that conclusion, and some of the facts presented appear to be in dispute. This may all turn out to be much ado about very little.
That said, when you as a top manager make a claim that the “average salary” of your base employee is going to increase, people will interpret that to mean that all of those salaries are going to go up. That’s not how the math works, but it’s very much how the psychology works, and it’s because of the way that information was communicated. You could have said “most salaries will go up”, you could have said “many people will get pay raises”, you could have said “these positions will see salary increases” – there are any number of ways to be clear, if implicitly so, that some people will fare better than others, and some people will be worse off than before.
But that’s not what HISD did here, and the fact that people did not find out about this until after the deadline to resign suggests that they were trying to distract from, if not outright hide, this reality. Maybe these examples cited are the result of clerical error or misunderstanding, but if so the proximate cause of those issues was the speed in which HISD acted, which didn’t give people time to figure out all the changes going on around them.
Yes, I know, HISD had to act fast in order to be ready for the new school year, which starts in just a few weeks, and yes I know they want to get the Miles plan implemented right away so as not to lose time in hopefully improving student outcomes. I get that and I agree that some of this was inevitable as a result. It’s still on Mike Miles and his team, as well as the TEA, to minimize these problems and make them right as quickly as possible as well. More to the point, it’s on them to be as clear as they can be about what will happen to the people of HISD, none of whom asked for all these changes to be visited on them.
It’s about building trust. If the people of HISD feel they’re getting the short end of the stick, especially if they feel they were misinformed about getting the short end of the stick, it will do the opposite of building trust. And whatever the NES ultimately achieves in the classroom, if people feel like they were mistreated in getting there, the first thing they’re going to want to do when they regain the power to do it is to get rid of the NES. If Mike Miles want this thing to last, which was not his legacy in Dallas, he needs to pay more attention to that. Houston Landing has more.
PS: This isn’t about whether or not certain types of teachers “should” be paid more than others. I’m not taking a side in that debate, at least not here. The issue here is about how HISD’s actions were communicated. They could and should have done better.