Fiscal Sustainability 3 – Steps and Lanes

When I took my first teacher education course at the then Mankato State College in 1973 I was given a quick lesson in how teachers were paid. This began long before teachers got the right to strike in Minnesota and is probably true all across the United States. We were shown an example of a “steps and lanes” schedule. One moment please…..I’ll google and see if I can find one to show you:

This is the first link to pop up from the State of Illinois explaining how they work.

Somehow I associate teacher’s unions with one of my favorite junior high teachers, Mr. Just. When I became a social studies teacher like him I copied the thing I remembered most about his class. I mimeographed off a half sheet newspaper each day with the top news headlines and a little explanation. I’m pretty sure he was North Mankato Junior High’s business rep for the union back in 1965. If so he had no right to strike under state law. The steps and lanes allowed senior teachers quicker pay increases based on their seniority and the additional classes they took beyond their initial Bachelor’s Degree.

Minnesota teachers got their right to strike in the 1971 the year of the Minnesota Miracle when the state took over much of the burden of paying teachers relieve property tax payers. This was also the year that PELRA was enacted giving Mr. Just and his comrades the right to strike. This law paved the way for tremendous growth in teacher pay until DFL legislators put the brakes on the system in the 1990’s to save themselves from being crushed by anti tax Republicans. Even so, Steps and lanes remain in most districts like Duluth and hide the actual salary increases which are negotiated because they push teacher’s pay beyond the much publicized cost of living increases. So a Duluth teacher may have gotten a 2% pay bump according to the news but in actuality the teachers averaged more like the 4.8% increase I discovered.

School Boards occasionally talk about eliminating steps and lanes through their negotiations but I doubt many have ever seriously tried to eliminate them. By the way, if the Duluth teachers had gone out on strike in 1998 when I fell on my sword by stepping down from the Chairmanship they would have been among the last teacher’s to strike in the US. Strikes seem to have died with the retirement of baby boomer teachers.

Can the district afford a 5 per cent increase? Sure but it comes at a cost. Our payroll is $67 million dollars a year and one teacher could get it all if they could single-handedly teach our 8,000 children all by their lonesome. There would, however, be a very significant pay cut if we hired a second teacher.

Type in “Minnesota Miracle” or “PELRA” into the search engine to see what I’ve written about it before. I wrote about both in this post from the last MSBA Convention.

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