Seventy-one teachers who work for Swanton Local Schools drew a line in the sand this month and said no to a wage freeze.
Although salary wasn't the only issue for the contract rejection - they also were asked to pay up to 20 percent of their health insurance - it was certainly a big one, said Judi Teague, a music teacher in the district.
"With the amount of education we have, and the amount the state requires us to have in comparison for the work load we have, I think teachers are paid too low," Ms. Teague said.
Teachers and their unions long have maintained that starting pay for a classroom teacher is insufficient - especially for an often thankless job that requires lots of work well after the final school bell rings each day.
And it's the starting salaries that make it difficult for districts to attract and retain "quality teachers," said Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, the union that represents Toledo Public Schools' teachers.
An analysis by The Blade of teacher salaries at school districts in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan found wide ranges between salaries paid beginning teachers as well as experienced teachers.
In general, the more rural an area, the lower the salary - even though some rural districts have larger student populations than a higher-paying suburban Toledo district.
Nationally, the average salary for a teacher was $45,771, according to an annual teacher salary survey by the American Federation of Teachers for the 2002-03 school year, the most recent year available.
Ohio ranked 15th in the nation in average salary at $45,515 - up 2.8 percent from the previous year, but still slightly below the national average.
But the state ranked 27th for its average beginning teacher salary of $28,866, up 5 percent from the year before.
"Teachers should get a better annual salary," said Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. "The minimum salaries are so low that they drag down average salaries throughout the state."
Toledo Public Schools, which employs about 2,500 full-time teachers, pays $32,697 annually to a teacher straight out of college.
That figure is on the higher end when compared to other school districts in northwest Ohio. Williams County's Bryan City Schools, for example, starts a teacher at $26,205 a year.
"We have locals that still have starting salaries below $25,000 a year, so disparity is a big issue," Mr. Mooney said.
If educators in the Buckeye state are looking to make more money, they might consider moving north.
Michigan teachers on average took home nearly $10,000 more than their Ohio counterparts.
The average teacher salary in that state was $54,020 for the 2002-03 school year, which was the second-highest in the nation behind California. The highest average teacher salary in southeast Michigan was in Monroe County's Jefferson Schools, which was $61,526 in 2002, the most recent year for which data were available.
There is a stark difference between the starting salaries paid to teachers in public schools versus parochial schools. College graduates who get a job teaching at a Catholic school will earn much less, said Jack Altenburger, superintendent of education for the Toledo Catholic Diocese.
Catholic high schools in the metro Toledo area paid an average starting salary of $24,506 last year. On the elementary-school level, the average starting pay was $20,925.
"Overall, our goal has to be 75 to 80 percent of what the local [public] district pays," Mr. Altenburger said. "On average, our schools pay 65 to 70 [percent] of what the public school district pays."
The affluent Ottawa Hills school district is on the opposite end of that pay spectrum. It offers a starting salary of $31,602 a year. The district's average for all teachers' salaries last school year was $60,621 - making it ninth highest in the state and tops in northwest Ohio.
Like any other marketplace, it is all about being competitive, said Ottawa Hills Superintendent Gail Mirrow.
"Every child deserves the best possible teacher. So, in order to have excellent teachers, it is important to attract intelligent and energetic people into the profession," she said.
Rookie public school teachers may lament small paychecks but teachers can still make a comfortable wage. While a $70,000 salary is uncommon, The Blade found veteran teachers in several districts who made at least that much last year.
It's easier to do in a district like Ottawa Hills, where at least 26 out of 68 teachers will be paid more than that amount this school year. For a person with a master's degree and 27 years experience, the pay is $70,788 a year. Of the school districts studied by The Blade, the low end of that pay category was the $46,059 a year in Sandusky County's Lakota Local Schools.
For Toledo Public Schools, The Blade found 111 teachers who were paid more than $70,000 for the calendar year 2003. District officials explained that the salaries may seem inflated because its home economics teachers received a large settlement last year in connection with a grievance.
About a third of teachers in the Toledo area worked extra duties - cafeteria duty, yearbook adviser, basketball coach etc. - adding anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to more than $15,000 a year to their salaries.
The top paid teacher in the Perrysburg school district, for example, was Raymond Pohlman, who made $81,613 in 2003- the only teacher in the district to surpass $80,000 that year. His base salary was $65,796, but he made an extra $10,544 as a co-curricular assistant; $4,032 as assistant football coach, and $1,241 as the weight room adviser.
Typically coaching is the most lucrative supplemental work for a teacher.
In Ottawa County's Benton-Carroll-Salem district, Oak Harbor High School geometry teacher Gary Quisno makes an additional $5,831 as head football coach on top of his base salary of $64,144.
Many teachers said the supplemental pay is nice, but it's not the motivating factor in taking on the responsibility of a sports team or student club.
Allison Mackin, an English and Spanish teacher at Maumee High School with 18 years experience, spends a "good deal of time" as adviser for the student council and National Honor Society. Those two extra duties earned her an additional $3,123 last year.
"It's not a whole lot of pay," she said. "And by the time you feed them and buy stuff like paint or poster board, it usually ends up coming out even or less in the end."
Robert Lotz, superintendant of the 6,500-student Findlay public school system, said the work teachers do for extra pay may not be necessarily related to the classroom, but it enhances the educational experience.
He also acknowledged that the compensation often doesn't cover the extra time worked.
"I come in during the summer and, especially in the elementary schools, the teachers will be in there preparing their classrooms on their own time," Mr. Lotz said. "And to be quite honest, on the supplemental pay we give them, the quote has been that it's about 50 cents an hour."
A 2001 survey by the National Education Association found that teachers spend an average of 10 unpaid hours a week on instructional work such as planning lessons or grading papers.
In addition to supplemental pay, the other common way teachers increase their salary is to go back to school themselves.
In the 2,400-student Clyde-Green Springs school district in Sandusky County, a teacher with 20 years or more experience and a master's will get $57,462 a year. If that same teacher has 30 additional graduate semester credits, he or she is paid $65,257 a year.
"We have people who get their master's halfway through their careers," said Superintendent Todd Helms. "So now, they are making more money."
Ron Soldwish, a Perrysburg resident who made an unsuccessful bid to run for the school board there, has collected reams of data on teacher compensation and claims low teaching salaries are justified, in part, because they are given time off during the summer.
"It seems that teachers are getting raises when no one else is a lot of the time," he said. "I think most of them have it pretty good."
But Mr. Mooney, of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, paints a different picture.
"The summer is called a layoff, so it's not a plus to be laid off over the summer," he said "It's a trade-off to get a break, but you still have to work on your master's, update your lesson plans, so there is a lot to do when they're not teaching."
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.
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