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Mayor: Salary only piece of puzzle in attracting, retaining teachers

Mayor Rahm Emanuel  |  Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 10, 2012 1:39PM

Teacher salaries are not the only bait needed to attract and retain good teachers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday, defending Chicago’s decision to pay competitive starting salaries that fall far short for veteran teachers.

“It’s not only the pay, but it’s also the quality that goes into education…Compensation is a piece of it. So is what you do a piece of it,” Emanuel said, arguing that a new core curriculum would “raise the standards” inside the classroom.

“Investing in education—making sure we’re making it an interesting education experience for the students as well as for the quality of education, the time that’s in it, the curriculum that’s in it, hearing their voices about how they’re focused on making sure that what we’re teaching is not just for the test, but for the education---that all adds to the experience.”

Emanuel noted that Chicago is not alone in confronting the problem of teacher retention.

“Every city faces this. About 50 percent of the teachers within the first two years leave the cities for the suburbs, which is why I expanded the AUSL teaching academies,” the mayor said.

“Those teachers commit to staying in the public school system for five years. I wanted to build up a teacher core that was here committed to an urban education and to our student body.”

A Chicago Sun-Times analysis of teacher pay schedules in close to 900 Illinois school districts includes warning signs for the financially-strapped Chicago Public Schools still negotiating a new teachers contract.

The city starts out strong for beginning teachers with a $50,577 salary for those with a bachelor’s degree. That’s high enough to be ranked No. 16 statewide.

But the annual salary for rookie teachers with a master’s degree ranks No. 30 statewide. Chicago’s top salary for a veteran with a master’s degree drops to No. 140. And Chicago teachers max out at $95,887-a-year, No. 167 statewide.

One expert warned that the “front-loading” of teacher salaries in Chicago Public Schools threatens to turn Chicago into a “farm system” for districts that pay more over the long run, some of them right over the city line.

But Emanuel said Wednesday he’s not really concerned about being surpassed by all the little towns on the Sun-Times list.

“It’s not Chicago vs Cairo, Illinois. The way we get compared is Chicago vs. the other big cities…That’s how we evaluate what we do,” he said.

The analysis of Chicago teacher salaries comes as Chicago is locked in teacher contract talks that a fact-finder’s long-awaited recommendation was unable to resolve. And it emerges amid growing questions nationwide about the kind of traditional salary schedules — common in Illinois and elsewhere — that reward teachers based on “steps’’

or years of experience and “lanes” or degrees and credit hours, but not necessarily for effectiveness.

Emanuel wants to end step and lane increases for Chicago teachers.

Last month, the mayor’s handpicked school board put off a vote on a $5.7 billion budget that earmarks two percent pay raises for teachers and $76 million for charters and drains every last penny of reserves to do it.

That prompted operators of some of Chicago’s most prominent charter networks—including the United Neighborhood

Organization and Noble Street--to raise the red flag.

They’re afraid that money for bigger teachers raises will come from shrinking their piece of the pie.

Those fears were only heightened by the breakthrough agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union that could go a long way toward averting the city’s first teacher strike in 25 years.

It calls for hiring 477 teachers to staff the longer school day so elementary school teachers don’t have to work a minute longer and rearranging the high school day so teachers there only have to work 14 extra minutes.

The new hires staffing elementary art, music and physical education will come from a pool of teachers laid off since 2010, giving the CTU its long-sought recall of displaced members.

Emanuel has repeatedly refused to say where he will find the $40 million-to-$50 million needed to hire 477 teachers to staff his longer school day. But he has said it will not be at the expense of charter schools.

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