A Yeshivah Contract Provision for Encouraging Professional Growth

by: Howard I. Rhine and Joel B. Wolowelsky

This article originally appeared in Ten Da’at, vol. 3, 1, 1988, p. 32. Appears here with permission.

There is no escaping the fact that contract negotiations in any yeshivah include a tension between providing the mechanekh with an appropriate standard of living, on the one hand, and the ability and willingness of the lay board to raise the necessary funds, on the other. However, an agreement should reflect not simply a compromise on financial matters, but an attempt to create an atmosphere of professional growth and responsibility. We present here such a construct, one which grew out of our own interchange, and which may serve as a model for others to consider, adopt or adapt.
A most important aspect of our school’s professional structure is the insistence that all negotiations be held exclusively with representatives of the Teachers Association. “Private deals” might work to the advantage of a few teachers, but they are ultimately destructive to school morale. As in most schools, a new teacher receives a salary that reflects his or her experience and academic training, and each year every teacher receives a salary increment. As all teachers receive the same increment (or move up one “step”), they all retain their relative position. The only way a veteran teacher can attain “senior” status (maximum salary level) is to seek employment elsewhere, a situation that does not work to our advantage. Our current structure addresses this issue.
Our salary scale consists of ten “steps.” A new teacher is placed on the scale on the basis of past experience- one step for each two or three years of experience, at the discretion of the principal. Each step has four “levels” which reflect academic training, A a bachelor’s degree; B, an additional thirty graduate credits; C, an additional forty-five graduate credits; D, semikhah or an additional sixty graduate credits. (For many teachers, then, further graduate study yields automatic salary raises.) In successive years, teachers do not automatically move up to higher steps, but the value of each step is increased annually by a negotiated percentage. There is, however, a procedure for the teacher to advance through the step ladder. Teachers accumulate “service units” through a method described below, and they advance one step upon accumulating twenty-five units. No one advances past step ten. These units are earned as follows:
(a) Tenured teachers are automatically awarded four units a term. This reflects a commitment to advance all tenured teachers through the ladder albeit somewhat slowly. Non-tenured teachers are awarded twelve units upon receiving tenure.
(b) All teachers earn one unit for each period of “overtime” above the basic contractual requirement. Overtime benefits teachers in that it offers an opportunity for increased earnings.
But it benefits the yeshivah too. Teachers do not have to run out to a second job; their additional work does not necessarily require additional administrative supervision; they do not need further medical or similar benefits: and they are more actively involved in day-long interaction with the students. This extra professional work deserves encouragement and recognition.
(c) Teachers on level D earn one unit for every additional graduate credit earned while working for the school. Encouraging teachers to pursue advanced study is a priority item; its value to the yeshivah is obvious. Of course, afternoon kollel work and Yeshiva High School Principals Council-sponsored courses and seminars qualify for this recognition. We are now introducing a level E for each step, recognizing additional advanced academic work done while in the employ of the yeshivah.
Under this structure, within a few years the bulk of our full-time teachers should be at or near step ten. We have therefore introduced a “senior bonus” for teachers on step ten who have twenty years of service to the yeshivah. We have begun to think about models for some sort of merit pay.
There is now universal recognition that yeshivah education needs professionalization. One should not overlook the value of such contracts as we have described in creating a fertile environment for professional growth.