State of Alaska, Department of Administration, Division of Personnel and Labor Relations

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Salary and Benefits Schedule for School Districts

House Bill 278, Section 52

In spring 2014, the Alaska Legislature passed HB 278, which included the following language in Section 52: “No later than June 15, 2015, the Department of Administration shall present to the legislature a written proposal for a salary and benefits schedule for school districts, including an evaluation of, and recommendations for, teacher tenure.”

Final Report

Scope

History

Alaska has 53 school districts that serve approximately 130,000 students in approximately 500 schools. These districts vary greatly in terms of enrollment, size, and geographic location. Most of Alaska’s school districts are relatively small in terms of enrollment. Two-thirds of the state’s school districts educate fewer than 500 students each.

Alaska considers itself to be a “local control” state regarding public education. Currently, each district determines salaries and most benefits for its employees, usually through a negotiated agreement process with employee labor associations. As such, compensation paid to each otherwise comparable teacher, administrator, paraprofessional, or other staff is different, depending on the district. Tenure policy, defined in statute, is consistent across the state.

Education policymakers in Alaska are challenged to provide education programs of comparable quality across our diverse state. Success toward this goal is partly dependent upon school districts’ ability to staff their schools with personnel of comparable quality. However, some factors make this goal difficult. Many districts in rural and remote locations in our state experience difficulty recruiting and retaining certified personnel, while Alaska’s urban cities experience relatively low staff turnover and a high number of applicants when positions do open.

Economists and education policymakers recognize that the relative costs of providing equitable educational programs in remote sites – including personnel costs – are significantly different than those of urban areas. Accordingly, Alaska’s education aid formula has been developed to reflect differences in the relative cost of delivering comparable education services in our state’s 53 school districts through a District Cost Factor component (AS 14.17.460). The purpose of this differential is to equalize the real value of education funding in order to remove inequities caused by regional differences in the cost of school operations. Currently, each district’s cost factor also includes an estimation of its relative cost of employing certified personnel of comparable quality to those in Anchorage.

Project

The Department of Administration will present to the legislature a proposal that calculates the compensation a district needs to offer to employ school district personnel of comparable quality across localities. The Commissioner will also make recommendations regarding teacher tenure policy.

Many challenges exist for designing a salary and benefits schedule for school districts that works best for all school districts. One of the many challenges is how to account for geographic differences in access to amenities, school and district characteristics, and prices of consumer goods both within and between school districts, which affect a district’s ability to employ school personnel of comparable quality to those in Anchorage. Another is how to structure a standardized compensation plan for the otherwise unstandardized system inherent within local control. Challenges also exist for making a recommendation for teacher tenure, especially during this time when teachers and districts are adapting to new evaluation requirements.

DOPLR views this project as an opportunity to present a plan that is intended to improve remote school districts’ ability to employ qualified, experienced, and effective staff while simultaneously helping the state account for growth in education spending and control costs.

Outcome

DOPLR anticipates that the final written proposal for a salary and benefits schedule for school districts will include the following three main parts:

  1. Geographic cost differentials for school district personnel
  2. Base compensation schedules for teachers and principals
  3. Different benefits school districts offer their employees and their costs

DOPLR anticipates that some districts in Alaska will have significant variation within their district in the relative costs of recruiting and retaining employees of comparable quality to those in Anchorage. For example, Lower Kuskokwim School District serves both Bethel, a hub city with many amenities, and several outlying communities with fewer amenities, including Newtok and Toksook Bay. Thus, it is expected that part of the research method will be screening all districts using a reliable, valid, and defensible method to determine whether significant variation in the relative cost of recruiting and retaining employees of comparable quality exists between sites within the district. In districts where significant intra-district variation is found to exist, differentials will be determined for each site within the district. Otherwise, differentials will be determined for a whole district.

DOPLR understands that school districts in Alaska employ many people who are neither teachers, nor principals, nor superintendents. Considering the short timeline given for this project, DOPLR does not anticipate proposing salary and benefits schedules for all types of school district employees at this time. However, DOPLR has made it a goal for this project to study staffing patterns at each of Alaska’s school districts in detail. To achieve this goal, CAEPR will prepare staffing profiles of Alaska districts.

Final recommendations to the legislature regarding teacher tenure policy will come from the Commissioner of the Department of Administration. To help the commissioner form appropriate recommendations, CAEPR will research stakeholder perceptions regarding the value and purpose of tenure; describe tenure policy in other states; and identify alternative tenure structures and their potential advantages and disadvantages.

Project Leads within the Department of Administration

  • Kate Sheehan, Director,
    Division of Personnel and Labor Relations,
    Alaska Department of Administration
  • Liz Brooks, Research Analyst,
    Division of Personnel and Labor Relations,
    Alaska Department of Administration

CAEPR Research Partners

  • Diane Hirshberg, Director,
    Center for Alaska Education Policy Research,
    University of Alaska Anchorage
  • Matt Berman, Professor of Economics,
    Institute of Social and Economic Research,
    University of Alaska Anchorage
  • Lexi Hill, Senior Research Associate,
    Center for Alaska Education Policy Research,
    University of Alaska Anchorage
  • Dayna DeFeo, Research Associate,
    Center for Alaska Education Policy Research,
    University of Alaska Anchorage

Tentative Work Schedule

Meetings with stakeholders:

  • Teleconferences with Alaska Superintendents Association November 3, 2014
  • Teleconference with Alaska Council of School Administrators November 3, 2014
  • Teleconference with Alaska Association of School Business Officials November 4, 2014
  • AASB conference in Anchorage November 7, 2014
  • Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development work session December 4, 2014
  • AASB Winter Academy in Anchorage December 13, 2014
  • NEA-Alaska Board of Directors and Delegate Assembly January 14-17, 2015
  • Alaska Superintendents Association Legislative Fly-In March 8-10, 2015
  • AASB Legislative Fly-In March 28, 2015

Review

  • Public review CAEPR research and comment period in August 2015