Editorial: Steps and lanes should be a priority in this year’s budget

We, the editorial staff, are opposed to the removal of the steps and lanes salary schedule in the 2021-2022 district budget. The steps and lanes model increases financial compensation for teachers as they obtain higher education qualifications (moving over “lanes”), as well as each year when they stay in the district (moving up “steps”). This year, the proposed budget does not allocate money to raise teacher salaries by the amounts that steps and lanes guarantee. The process that led to the removal of this system has not been transparent, nor has it allowed sufficient opportunity for community input. The decision is one that will have a lasting negative impact on the future of the Shorewood School District.

The reasoning given by the school board is vague and does not appropriately explain the justification for such an influential decision. From what the community and the teachers union (the Shorewood Educators Association, or the SEA) are led to understand, the failure to uphold steps and lanes is due to increased COVID-related costs and because the state did not increase funding for public schools this year, even though they were expected to. However, according to the administration’s communication with the SEA as of September 14, 2021, the allocation to fund the entire steps and lanes model for the whole district would be only $216,000 – less than 1% of the total budget. While we do not want to underestimate the hardships these issues have put on the district budget, we question why it is impossible to find the money for a program that would be such a tiny percent of the district’s funds. 

Not only is the justification of the removal unclear, but the administration has also not communicated well with the community or the SEA throughout this process. The community input meeting for the district’s budget was in March, and technically all three meetings where the budget has been discussed have been open to the public. However, during the community input meeting as well as the first two preliminary budget meetings, the board was under the impression that lanes would still be funded this year. As such, at the main time for community input, the decision to cut steps and lanes entirely had not yet been made.

It is extremely important that the district budget reflects the values of Shorewood parents, teachers and community members. Such a major decision should not be made without adequate opportunities for input. In addition, this choice goes against the Parent and Community School Perceptions survey conducted in May of 2021. The survey asked parents, community members, and staff their opinions on what the district should allocate resources towards in order to provide a quality education for all students. Overwhelmingly, the answer was to “attract/engage/retain quality staff.” Since the board has barely allowed public opinion, it is unsurprising they fail to understand this community value.The steps and lanes program promotes retention of teachers, since they will benefit from being in the district for a longer time. Once teachers have been in the district for a certain amount of time, there is no financially feasible lateral movement between surrounding districts because they make much more money at Shorewood than they would elsewhere. Maintaining quality teaching staff is important because it cements generation-long connections between families and teachers, and helps both teachers and students feel more comfortable. In addition, if the district’s teacher turnover rate increased due to less fair salary systems, we would be wasting the district’s sizable investments in professional development for teaching staff. Ultimately, by taking away the salary model that sets Shorewood apart, we are also taking away a huge incentive for teachers to come to our district — and to stay. 

It is important beyond words to the Ripples staff that we maintain the incredible standard of teaching that we currently see at Shorewood. The only way to do this is to make it extraordinarily clear to teachers that we value them.

The steps and lanes model also helps to ensure that the teaching staff who apply to Shorewood are people who are ready to make a long term commitment to the district and to refining their craft. Looking at the clearly mapped out salary schedule provides motivation for new teachers to improve their skills by pursuing more education (since they know they will be fairly compensated for the time and money they will spend learning), and to stay in the district for a long time. Without the steps and lanes model, the level of investment of new teachers the district hires would decrease substantially.

This is also a problem of equity. Currently, while 67.1 percent of Shorewood students are white, 91.5 percent of teaching staff are white. However, only 12.4 percent of staff that left the district this past school year were white.

We must attract, maintain and fairly compensate our teachers, especially those of minority populations. Historically, many minority populations have less opportunities to pursue higher education. According to the Brookings Institution, Black graduates have almost twice as much debt as white graduates four years after graduation. With existing disparities in higher education, if the district does not compensate staff of color for attaining higher education, these options will become even more unrealistic for them. 

It is important beyond words to the Ripples staff that we maintain the incredible standard of teaching that we currently see at Shorewood. The only way to do this is to make it extraordinarily clear to teachers that we value them. We value the time, the high level of education and the unique talent of the group of people who spend so much of their time helping us to learn and grow. Shorewood must prove to its teachers that we value them by prioritizing the steps and lanes salary model this year and every year to come.