Teachers have a reputation for being underpaid, but that certainly isn't the case in Modesto City Schools. Its teachers have some of the top salaries in all of California.
Last year, 98 of the district's 1,600 teachers and counselors earned more than $100,000, including 25 who earned more than $110,000. (See our database of who makes $100k at bottom of the story).
On average during the 2008-09 school year, teachers earned $80,686 in base pay for working 185 days.
Many of the district's educators were paid extra for things such as teaching additional classes, coaching sports and academic teams, and overseeing independent study students.
About two dozen teachers boosted their earnings by $20,000 or more last year by taking on such added duties.
Even without those stipends, Modesto City Schools' educators on average earned nearly $14,000 per year more than teachers elsewhere in California. Their base pay was more than double the median salary for full-time Modesto workers in the private sector, most of whom worked 240 days or more.
"We're well-paid, but I do not believe we're overpaid," said Barney Hale, longtime leader of the Modesto Teachers Association.
Teacher salaries and potential pay cuts for all employees, including administrators, have become an issue this spring as Modesto City Schools struggles to slash $25 million — about 10 percent — from next year's budget.
Twenty-two of the 25 highest-paid district employees are administrators, led by Superintendent Arturo Flores at $228,166.25. In all, 79 administrators make more than $100,000.
The highest-paid teacher is Downey High School's Frank Bispo, who made $129,885 in 2008-09. Included in his 2008-09 compensation was $42,750.86 in stipends.
Hale said Modesto City Schools' educators earn more primarily because they have been teaching for more years than those elsewhere in the state and because their district contributes less toward their health and welfare benefits.
Hale said it's not fair to compare their salaries with what Modesto's privately employed workers earn because teachers are more educated.
But even when the value of benefits are added in, Modesto's teachers are significantly better compensated than their California counterparts. The average total compensation including benefits during the 2008-09 school year was $82,484 for Modesto educators, compared to the $76,212 statewide teacher average.
It is uncommon for Modesto workers to earn more than those doing similar work elsewhere in California.
The U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey, for example, calculated that Modesto residents with postgraduate or professional degrees earned a median $62,003, while the California median for such highly educated residents was $74,664.
In its initial contract offer for the 2010-11 school year, Modesto's school board proposed teachers take a 12.5 percent pay cut and reduce their work year by seven days, which would shrink salaries an additional 3.5 percent.
"We surveyed our members, and there was not interest in them taking a salary cut," Hale said. He said no one has a good solution for solving the district's budget woes, but he supports the idea of asking voters to increase their property taxes to raise extra money for schools.
Hale noted that teachers took a 1 percent pay cut and eliminated three workdays this year, which resulted in salaries shrinking 2.6 percent.
But in reality, many teachers in the district actually got raises — or made about the same this year as last — because of how the pay scale is structured.
Modesto City Schools and most other California districts pay teachers based on how many years' experience they have and how much education they have attained.
For each extra year they stay in the district, teachers receive a 2 percent to 2.5 percent pay increase. And those who complete continuing education courses or earn an advanced degree, such as a master's, are given additional pay boosts. These are referred to as "step and column raises," and they are bestowed no matter what happens to the overall salary schedule.
Those raises for longevity and training are justified, according to Hale.
"Experience is something that should be rewarded," Hale explained. "Our teachers have tried to make themselves experts by taking additional classes on their own time and paying for them with their own money."
Teachers frequently take those continuing education courses on their off days. This school year, teachers will work 182 days. Next year, it is proposed they work 175 days.
Modesto City Schools' teachers can give themselves an extra day off with pay, and they don't have to say why. That's because they get to take off up to seven "personal" days during the school year, plus three more days in case they're sick. If they don't use any of those 10 days, they can carry them over to use during future years.
Teachers are required to be on campus about six hours on workdays, generally from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
That means teachers making the average $80,686 base pay for working 185 days last year could have earned $72.69 per hour if they put in only the required six hours.
Most teachers actually work significantly longer hours than that, said Chris Flesuras, the district's chief of human resources.
"We have a ton of teachers who are on campus until 5 p.m.," Flesuras said. "I don't begrudge high salaries for teachers because they have a very difficult job."
How much teachers will be paid next year and how many days they will be required to work is being negotiated by the MTA and the district's administrators, led by Flesuras.
If teachers don't agree to pay cuts, 517 of them have been notified they may get laid off come July.
The district is struggling to balance its budget because of declining enrollment and shrinking statewide tax revenues.
Flesuras also is negotiating with the union that represents the district's nonteaching staff members. He said administrators will take the same pay cuts as other employees. "We always try to do equitable deductions for all groups," he said.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2196.
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