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Teaching Tuesday: Retro pay

Due to laws that I do not even pretend to understand, bargaining for teachers’ contracts cannot formally begin in Indiana until after September 15th. For those schools on a standard school year, this means that bargaining for salaries and benefits cannot begin until about a month AFTER school has started. For schools on a balanced calendar, like mine, that means that bargaining cannot begin until school has been in session for 6-7 weeks.

For 4-7 weeks, teachers must work on a status quo contract, meaning everything from the previous year is frozen in place. There are no pay raises, even for those rated as the most highly effective. Teachers who are hired in brand new to the corporation can be hired in with extra benefits and bonuses, but those established teachers who have returned for another year have to start off financially with everything the same as it was the year before.

To make matters even crazier, negotiations for the new contract do not have to be finished until November 15th. So that means that in some school corporations, like mine, teachers will have been working for as many as 15 weeks on last year’s contract.

For a variety of reasons, my school was not able to settle our contract until the November 15th deadline. Even on that day, last minute fixes were being done to it. It was a serious mess.

The good news is that once the contract is ratified, schools then have to compensate teachers retroactively for the year. Teachers don’t actually lose out on any bit of their pay increase. Nor does the pay increase simply get applied to the remaining 18-22 pay checks.

Once the contract is agreed upon, teachers get retroactively paid for those lost weeks before and during negotiations. While this can be a bit of a drag at first, if usually means at least one check that feels like a really nice bonus, even if it’s really just pay back for what you’ve missed while you were working.

Unfortunately since my district waited so long to work out all the contract details, our retro pay fell on the same payday as our extracurricular pay. Although many teachers do get small stipends for extracurricular work we do (coaching, sponsoring clubs or academic teams, etc), the law says those extras cannot be paid monthly, but rather distributed once in the fall and once in the spring, depending on the activity. For activities that take all year, like yearbook or student government sponsors, teachers get paid half of the stipend in the fall and half in the spring.

Our fall stipend pay usually falls the first payday in December and our spring stipend pay usually falls the first payday in June. Yeah, I realize those are really winter and summer dates, but accuracy in titles isn’t the real concern. What is a concern is how heavily our paychecks were taxed. Although it was all money owed to us for work we’d already done over the last 15 weeks, one or our paychecks looked categorically huge in relation to all the others and got taxed at a different rate.

Now, I’m not complaining about taxes. I understand their purpose and pay mine with little complaint as I believe in the betterment of society. My complaint (and it is a smallish one), is putting all that “extra” money on one pay check, therefore forcing hardworking teachers, who are already underpaid to pay higher taxes on money that was ours but simply being withheld from us due to rather arbitrary negotiating dates. My district could have done it in two separate pays, but decided not to.

Sure, it’s really nice to have that extra big pay check right before the holidays, but it would have been even nicer for it to be spread out among two regularly taxed checks.

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