What just happened?

Pay increases for teachers will far exceed the bump in their new contract.

The Saint Paul Federation of Educators and its members walked off the job in March to strike for the first time since 1946. For months, the teachers’ union and the Saint Paul Public Schools district (SPPS) had failed to make progress at the bargaining table over the union’s 31 contract proposals, which included a demand for teacher salary increases over the two-year life of the collective bargaining agreement.

After three days of striking, the teachers’ union reached an agreement with the school district, stating it “settled” for the district’s wage increase proposal of 1.5 percent this year and 2 percent next year.

But these percentage increases only tell part of the story. While the proposed increases do represent new money teachers will get, many in the general public are not aware that these increases are on top of built-in pay hikes based on teachers’ education level and experience. Most St. Paul teachers will receive at least an eight percent increase over the life of the two-year contract. On average, St. Paul teachers are paid $75,199, second only to Edina in Minnesota.

Commonly called the “step and lane” progression, pay increases are built into the salary schedule for the first 20-or-so years of a teacher’s career. Step and lane schedules remain the most common salary structure for teachers. The “steps” in a teacher salary schedule are the number of years a teacher has been teaching, and the “lanes” are the level of education the teacher has. Under union salary schedules, teachers earn automatic raises for each additional year of experience up to the top of the scale and can also earn more money by pursuing additional education credits and degrees.

This is not to say that teachers don’t have the right to ask the school district for higher wages and make their case to taxpayers, parents, and the school board. However, the way the union frames its wage increase demands is misleading. St. Paul residents and taxpayers deserve transparency around the actual increases teachers will see on their paychecks—increases that account not only for new money but the built-in salary boosts as well.