Salary Schedule Lanes: How Much Difference Do They Really Make?

Many school districts have a salary schedule for teachers where your pay increases based on a combination of the number of years you have taught in the district (“steps”) and the educational level you attain (“lanes”). While steps are automatic (well, except for the occasional bad budget year where steps are frozen), lanes are dependent on whether teachers get additional education (and how much they get). Most teachers are aware that if they get additional education and move across the lanes they can increase their salary, but many may not know the huge difference that can make over time.

Again, inspired by a slide Ben Johnson created, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at Littleton Public Schools’ (LPS) salary schedule. LPS has a Schedule A and a Schedule B, with most folks (I believe) on Schedule B, but with Schedule A retained for some veteran teachers who it is more advantageous to stay on the older schedule (LPS pays you whichever schedule is higher for you). For this example, I’ll just focus on Schedule B.

While the salary schedule is generally “set” (at least until there is some kind of major negotiated change like when they added Schedule B), the schedule itself (usually) changes from year to year as each cell is inflated by a yearly increase to help offset inflation. I’ve created a spreadsheet that takes the current Schedule B and inflates future year salaries by 1% each year (as those increases have been rather sparse lately), but you can change that to a different amount if you wish (cell E2, outlined in purple). The first table in the spreadsheet shows what the (projected) salary will be for each step and lane for the next 40 years.

The second table (as you scroll to the right, beginning with Column N) shows the cumulative sum of the salaries in each lane. For example, if you look in cell P11, you’ll see that a teacher in the BA+40 lane will have a total cumulative salary of $368,598 after seven years of teaching. This assumes they are in that lane for all seven years (and that the 1% yearly increase in the schedule is accurate). An important point to keep in mind when looking at this spreadsheet is that very few teachers will remain in the same lane for their entire career (unless they are already at BA+40 or MA+90/DOC when they begin teaching). Because teachers have to complete continuing education credits to remain certified, it is almost a certainty that they will occasionally move horizontally across lanes.

But there is a hard break between BA+40 and MA. If you don’t get your Master’s degree, then you are “stuck” at BA+40, those continuing education credits don’t do you any good (in terms of salary, they obviously hopefully help you become a better teacher). Once you have your Masters, then you can continue moving lanes until you max out at MA+90 (or if you get a Doctorate).

The final table (as you scroll to the right, beginning with Column X) is the “difference” table. This shows the difference between the cumulative salaries in each lane as compared to the MA+90/DOC lane after 10, 20, 30 and 40 years of teaching. For example, here is the difference after 30 years of teaching:

So, after 30 years of teaching, you make about $1 million more (cumulatively) in the MA+90/DOC lane than in the BA lane. (And, likely a more helpful comparison, about $668,000 more if you compare BA+40 to MA+90/DOC).

As you scroll through the table, you’ll notice those numbers start to increase somewhat dramatically as you pass 10, 20, 30 and perhaps head toward 40 years. Again, a reminder that teachers will likely receive salaries in multiple lanes throughout their career, so these numbers won’t match anyone exactly (even if the 1% projected yearly increase was exactly right for 40 years). But it’s still very illustrative of the financial difference moving horizontally across the lanes (and moving horizontally as quickly as you can) can make (and getting your Master’s degree as quickly as you can.) I think focusing on the difference between the BA+40 column and the MA+90/DOC column (because of the hard break if you don’t get a Master’s degree) is probably the most impactful.

A couple of caveats, however. First, getting those additional hours is generally not free (especially getting a Master’s degree), so there is some cost associated with moving horizontally across lanes (but some of that cost is unavoidable, as you have to get recertification hours).

Second, money isn’t everything. Really. So having the time, opportunity and energy to pursue these additional hours has to fit into your life circumstances, as well as what you value and want to do with your life. So please don’t feel “shamed” if you haven’t moved across lanes or if you choose not to. This has to be part of the “good life” that you want to live.

With those caveats in mind, hopefully this spreadsheet shows you the financial impact moving across lanes can have and that will hopefully help inform your decision making. And one more thing, keep in mind that your PERA Defined Benefit is based on your highest average salary (either highest 3 or 5 years, depending on when your PERA membership started), so not only does moving across lanes increase your cumulative salary while you’re working, it continues to increase your cumulative retirement income once you start drawing that PERA benefit for the rest of your life (and possible your co-beneficiary’s life if you choose an Option 2 or Option 3 benefit).

Does this information spur you to accelerate moving across lanes? Or do you feel like you have “enough” and your time and energy is better spent elsewhere? Feel free to leave a comment below or reach out with questions or suggestions.

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