Boston teachers hit top salaries fast

But living costs erode early gains

CORRECTION: Due to miscalculations in the original National Council on Teacher Quality report, the data furnished to CommonWealth contained errors in the cost of living adjusted rankings. The story has been updated to reflect those revised rankings.

A new report says Boston teachers take fewer years to hit the district’s top average salaries than nearly all big-city school systems in the country, but those gains are undercut by the Hub’s high cost of living.

Compared to their colleagues nationwide, Boston teachers do well quickly. Their salaries take just seven years to hit $75,000, the average maximum salary for a US teacher who has worked for 30 years, according to the report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington, DC-based research and policy group.

Most teachers earn pay increases through seniority, professional development, advanced degree coursework, and cost of living adjustments. In Boston, teachers can also increase their earnings by working in schools with high-need populations and by teaching hard-to-staff subjects.

Boston teachers earn some of the highest annual salaries in the US, second only to Washington DC. The annual starting salary for a new teacher is nearly $50,000 and, by end of their career, a teacher has pulled in about $100,000; with total lifetime earnings reaching nearly $2.7 million.

But factor in the high cost of living and Hub teachers’ real earnings plummet to 28th in the country. Other high-cost cities such as San Francisco (ranked 32d in pay; 123d adjusted for cost of living) and New York (ranks 10 in pay; 119th when adjusted for Gotham’s high costs) show similar trajectories.

“Just looking at beginning and ending salaries can be misleading,” said Nancy Waymack, the National Council on Teacher Quality’s managing director for district policy. “There are some districts that start out higher than others and end up higher than others, but don’t have the same kind of lifetime earnings that teachers can get in other places.”

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Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

How do teachers improve their lot? Teacher unions must pay attention to the timing of salary increases during contract negotiations, a factor that Boston officials appear to have “kept in mind,” Waymack noted.

Local policymakers, she continued, must consider what they are willing to put on the table to compete for the best teachers. “They need to set up a salary system that makes sense and is shaped in a way that maximizes the money available to recruit and retain high quality teachers,” Waymant said.