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Survey Finds Teachers in Big Districts Paid Less Than Colleagues

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Teachers in the nation's largest school districts are paid less than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, and the gap is widening, according to a new survey.

Published last week in ERS Spectrum, the quarterly journal of the Educational Research Service, the report states that teachers in school districts with 25,000 or more pupils will earn about $3,000 less this year than their counterparts in smaller districts.

Moreover, the decline in teacher pay comes at a time when large school districts are also making dramatic reductions in central-office staff. Over the past four years, the study says, the ratio of pupils to central-office administrators in large districts rose by 38 percent.

"A number of large, urban school districts have been cut back in recent years and these are some of the ways they've cut back on budgets,'' said Glen E. Robinson, the president of E.R.S., which functions as a research arm for seven national professional organizations focused on school management.

Researchers for E.R.S. survey the nation's school districts annually on their salaries and staffing policies. This year is the first, however, in which researchers have separately analyzed the data collected from large school districts over a 10-year period.

From the 1984-85 school year to the 1986-87 school year, the study shows, teachers in large school districts were earning about $500 more than their peers elsewhere.
And in 1988-89, the salaries of teachers in districts of all sizes were about even.

Since then, however, salaries for teachers in large, mostly urban school districts have fallen behind pay levels in the rest of the nation.

Less Experience, Less Pay

This year, for example, teachers nationwide will earn an average of 3.5 percent more than they did last year--an increase that outpaces the rate of inflation, which was 3 percent based on the Consumer Price Index. Teachers in large districts, in comparison, will earn only 0.9 percent more this year.

Researchers said the disparity is due primarily to an exodus of more experienced, higher-paid teachers from large districts, who leave for reasons that range from "burnout'' to early-retirement incentives.

They are being replaced with younger, less experienced teachers who fall much lower on school district salary schedules.

"On the one hand, you could say that older teachers may be less adaptable to changes,'' Mr. Robinson said. "But you could also say that younger persons have not had that much experience in dealing with these kinds of classrooms.''

The study also shows that those lower-paid teachers must contend with larger classes than those of their better-paid counterparts, as has been the case over the past 10 years. This year, large districts report an average of 19.2 pupils per teacher, compared with an average of 18.3 in all other school districts.

The trend toward trimming the size of central-office staffs is more recent, showing up in statistics beginning in 1989-90.

This year, there are an average of 756 pupils per central-office administrator in large districts, compared with a national average of 595 pupils per administrator.

"You keep hearing, 'cut back on administration,''' Mr. Robinson said. "Well, these districts have already done that.''

The pay and staffing disparities between large and small districts, the report concludes, "suggest that large school districts have some very difficult problems to address if they are to maintain quality staffs and improve student achievement in the coming years.''

Information on ordering copies of the report is available from the E.R.S., 2000 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, Va. 22201; (703) 243-8316.

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