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Your First Year of Teaching

I’ll Make How Much?

A Primer on Salary Schedules


By Cindy Long

After back-to-back school years of hiring freezes, budget cuts, and a flurry of pink slips, landing a job in the classroom is no small feat. Congratulations! Now the real work begins—figuring out how to manage your classroom, plan engaging lessons, and decipher that bewildering salary schedule.

A salary schedule offers you a glimpse into the future of your education career. Charted in steps and increments, it’s a timetable of when you’ll receive raises. But accurately reading a schedule can be daunting. How do you make sense of all those columns and rows? It’s easier than you may think if you keep a few things in mind.

Starting Salary

First, take a look at the top left corner. That’s your starting salary, and arguably the single most important factor to consider when deciding on a job. It’s the launching pad for future raises, so the higher the starting salary, the more you’ll earn over time.

The National Education Association’s national salary campaign advocates for starting salaries of at least $40,000. Everyone needs a basic standard of living, and no matter where an educator is living, a minimum of $40,000 is a reasonable amount. For more on the NEA salary campaign, visit

Number of Steps

A strong salary schedule has the fewest possible steps, which means that you’ll reach the top rate sooner and maximize your career earnings. Take a look at the starting salary and count the number of steps to maximum. If it’s more than about 15, it’s too long a schedule.

That’s because most educators can “master” their jobs in about five to 10 years. More than 10 or 15 steps creates inequity, with unequal pay for equal work. Long schedules can also create tensions at bargaining time, pitting low-seniority teachers against the veterans.

Horizontal Values

The salary schedule will also show you whether there’s an opportunity to earn more with advanced degrees and professional development. Since those values are usually listed horizontally, this is referred to as moving across the salary schedule “lanes.” In Pennsylvania some of the best schedules have 18 horizontal values, with increases for every six credits earned from a bachelor’s to a doctorate.

The History

Politics and economics often impact a school or district salary schedule. In a tough economy, steps might be added, or increments devalued. (An increment is the dollar difference between two consecutive steps on a schedule.) Take a look at the history of the schedule to see how consistent it’s remained through different political climates and economic downturns. Districts shouldn’t decrease the amount of money that comes with movement from one step to the next, and they shouldn’t add more steps to the salary scale.

Also, check to see if increments were uniform throughout the schedule. They should always remain the same from one step to the next. A “bubble” is an oversized increment that destroys the integrity of the schedule.

The Whole Package

Keep in mind that the salary schedule shouldn’t be your only consideration in evaluating an offer. You need to look at the whole picture. How is the health insurance? Is there a strong tuition reimbursement program? Does the school have a high level of administrative support and parental involvement?

Money isn’t everything, but understanding salary schedules will help you get your career off to a good start.

How Collective Bargaining Boosts Your Pay

 By Ilana Kowarski

Negotiating with your employer can be intimidating, especially when your salary is at stake.  Whether we like it or not, money matters, so getting the right salary schedule is important: Economic research has shown that your salary schedule has a big impact on your long-term earnings. 

And it’s not just a financial issue:  Salary schedules also affect the classroom environment, according to NEA’s director of collective bargaining, Bill Raabe.  Better pay for educators means better working and learning conditions in schools, and so salary schedules should “always be given careful consideration, study, and development at the bargaining table,” he says.

To get the salary schedule you deserve, you need all the support you can get, and that’s where your union comes in.  Through collective bargaining you have strength in unity and numbers. Even in nonbargaining states, your union can help you with better pay by lobbying state legislatures and social boards.  

“Sometimes you’re not your own best advocate,” NEA policy analyst Dave Winans explains. “It’s often better to have an experienced advocate who has some distance from the people you are working with.” When the local union advocates on your behalf, administrators are less likely to walk away with personal grudges against you if the negotiations don’t go their way, says Winans.

Most importantly, collective bargaining changes the balance of power between you and your boss. By yourself, you may not be able to sway decisions in your favor, but a group of employees is a force to be reckoned with. When your union advocate speaks for the whole group and not just for you, they have more power at the negotiating table, so you’re more likely to get a fair deal.

Compensation Glossary

Average Salary – Base salary cost divided by the total number of full-time employees (FTE) on the scattergram.

Base Salary Cost – Total of each step on the guide multiplied by each corresponding step on the scattergram.  Other amounts that might be taken into account include longevity, extra-curricular activities, stipends, building stipends, etc.

Breakage – The amount saved between the salary of a departing employee (due to retirement, resignation, or leave of absence) and the salary of the new employee.

$50,000 salary of retiring employee
$30,000 replacement employee
$20,000 breakage

Bubble/Balloon – An abnormal separation between two steps on a salary guide.

Step 13:      $39,000
Step 14:      $40,000
Maximum:   $50,000
Increment:   $10,000 or 25%

Cumulative Earnings – Total sum of all salaries in a specified time period or career. New Jersey Education Association Research calculates the 10-, 20-, and 30-year earnings based on a long-standing formula of five years on the BA column and the remaining years on the MA column. Longevity is added, as are any other negotiated amounts at the appropriate time.

Longevity – Additional money paid to an employee above the salary guide. It is usually based on years of service, either to the school district or the profession in general. It is usually a specific dollar amount, but it can also be a percentage of salary.

$1,000 additional for 15 years of service to the district or 3% of individual salary for 15 years of service to the district.

Off-Guide Salaries – Any salaries that are paid above what appears on the printed salary guides.

Scattergram – A chart showing the number of employees on each step and level/category of a salary guide. These employees will generally be in the full time equivalency (FTE) category of employment.

A sample schedule from Pennsylvania (location randomly chosen).

  BA B+15 B+30 MA M+15 M+30
1 48,092 49,532 50,497 51,458 53,381 55,306
2 50,015 51,457 52,420 53,863 55,785 57,710
3 51,938 53,381 54,342 56,267 58,190 60,114
4 54,015 55,516 56,516 58,517 60,517 62,519
5 56,218 57,578 58,939 61,205 63,473 65,286
6 59,845 61,205 63,019 65,297 67,553 69,820
7 63,473 65,286 67,100 69,367 71,633 74,354
8 67,100 68,913 70,727 73,447 76,168 78,434
9 70,727 72,540 74,354 77,527 80,247 82,968
10 74,354 76,620 78,434 81,607 84,328 87,502
11 77,981 80,247 82,061 85,688 88,861 91,582
12 82,061 83,874 86,142 89,769 92,942 96,116
13 87,502 89,315 91,582 96,116 99,289 102,463
14 92,761 95,024 97,287 101,811 105,431 109,264

Longevity information:
$675 after 12, 15, 18, and 20 years.
(Total $2,700) in distribution.

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