More teachers are leaving Kansas classrooms. That includes both veteran teachers and younger rookies. What can be done to reduce this attrition until someday the supply of new teachers returns? Simply—individual teachers who are contemplating leaving can be offered extra pay.
Over these last decades, Kansas beginning and average salaries for teachers have been dropping when compared with the other 49 states. Nor has teacher pay kept pace with inflation. Teacher salaries had their highest purchasing power in the early 1970s. Looking ahead to an eroding salary that no longer compares to other professions that require a college degree, and no longer being able to afford to send their own children to college, it is reasonable that more Kansas teachers are considering leaving the profession or leaving the state.
One stop gap measure now available to school administrators is retention bonuses, a form of differential pay. Simply, schools can pay an additional bonus to keep a good teacher in the classroom.
This is not to be confused with the supplemental pay provided to a teacher for taking on extra duties such as after-school coaching or sponsoring the student council.
In some states, there is one uniform statewide salary scale. Some of those states have a higher pay scale for teachers in a shortage area. Often, all special education or all science teachers will get a higher salary. This is called differential pay. However, Kansas has over 280 unified school districts, each with a different salary scale. And the cost of living across urban to rural districts can be quite different. So a teacher might earn a smaller salary but be better off than a richer teacher in a high-cost area.
But local control also means that schools can offer individual retention bonuses appropriate to their district. A teacher should check their district’s negotiated agreement for language pertaining to bonuses. Schools can offer extra money in the annual contract, above-and-beyond the standard salary scale, to individual teachers who have proven themselves in the classroom and for whom the school district is unlikely to find a replacement.
This is not too different from hiring bonuses, the one-time lumps of money commonly offered to attract a teacher to come to a district. Hiring bonuses have been used for years, especially by remote rural districts or high-poverty schools. But retention bonuses can be added to hold onto a veteran teacher who is considering leaving, or to recruit away an exceptional teacher from another district.
Retention bonuses are added to the yearly contracts. If a teacher is promised an ongoing bonus to stay in the district, this teacher needs to get in writing that the bonus will be added to the salary schedule dictated by the negotiated agreement each and every year through duration of employment.
For several years now, some high-performance Kansas science, math and other teachers have negotiated retention bonuses that have kept them in Kansas classrooms. Some have negotiated up to an additional $10,000–12,000 per year! The ability of a school to offer retention bonuses will depend on the district’s resources, local teaching climate and administration.
Even a modest $1000-per-year renewed retention-bonus amounts to $40,000 over a 40-year career. Such accumulating amounts can make a difference in the life of a teacher and his/her family.
It is important to do everything we can to keep our best teachers from leaving Kansas classrooms. When Kansas students return to school this fall, they need the best teachers Kansas can retain. This may not set well with non-shortage-area teachers in the teacher’s lounge. —Nor with local citizens who have a low regard for education. But Kansas needs to do what is best for Kansas students.