New report documents the true cost of teacher pay under Boston’s current contract

‘Hidden costs’ of contract reveals significant additional wages

January 7, 2011

Boston – At a time when average wages in the Boston metropolitan area have been stagnant because of the economic downturn, Boston teachers have received double-digit increases in annual compensation over the past four years. This is the result of a salary system that drives teacher pay upward with steady increases—including steps and lanes—that are automatic year after year, in addition to the more visible annual increases negotiated by the Boston Teacher Union.

As a result, a representative teacher with three years in the system and a bachelor’s degree plus 15 graduate credits who received $50,057 in overall compensation in 2006 would have seen that compensation increase to $72,059 by 2010. That is an increase of 44 percent in four years with no additional educational attainment.

The current system of payment, baked into the contract that expired in August 2010 but which nevertheless continues to push teacher pay higher, is laid out in detail in a new report researched and written by the Boston Municipal Research Bureau and commissioned and published by the Boston Foundation. The report, The Real Cost of the Contract: An Analysis of Salary & Benefits of Boston Public School Teachers , sets forth how teacher pay is determined and how the results compare to neighboring communities. The goal of the report is to draw attention to a complex pay formula which has been little reported in the past and to inform the public discussion about teacher compensation at a time when Boston’s school department is negotiating a new teacher contract.

Among the findings of the research are the following:

  • In additional to the widely reported annual pay increases that are negotiated for the teachers as part of their annual increases—14 percent over the life of the last four-year contract—the Boston teachers receive additional pay in the form of  so-called steps and lanes that add double digit increases in pay as well.
  •  Pay increases have no connection to performance by the teacher, the students being taught or  the school to which the teacher belongs.
  •  Boston teacher pay is significantly higher on average than that of their peers elsewhere in the Commonwealth.
  •  Boston teachers work fewer hours and shorter years than their peers across the country.
  •  Increases in compensation have continued to compound even after the teacher’s contract expired in August of 2010.
  • Teachers earn pay increases by accruing advanced degrees even if those degrees have no relevance to the teacher’s field of instruction or to the overall needs of the system. Research shows there is weak if any correlation between advanced degree attainment by teachers and improved student performance.
  • The report focuses on salary and wage compensation of teachers and not on the substantial additional compensation that BPS teachers receive in the form of extensive and costly health and benefit packages that add considerable additional costs.

“The Boston Teachers Union has clearly done a masterful job on behalf of their members, creating a system that rewards Boston teachers handsomely regardless of how they perform and regardless of the economic climate,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “The question now is whether this system, so costly and so disconnected from student performance, is in the best interests of the community.”

The question of teacher compensation has surfaced in part because of the significant role it plays in the overall budget of Boston’s school department. In a general budget of $821.4 million, fully 82 percent or $671.6 million is spent on employee salaries and benefits combined. Salaries for teachers total $399.2 million. Step increases, which are automatic and are based on years of service in the system, account for $9.1 million in fiscal year 2011.

“How limited resources can be best structured to support student achievement is the overriding issue in the current negotiations between the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union,” said Sam Tyler, President of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, an independent fiscal watchdog organization whose staff researched and prepared the report. “This report provides a comprehensive view of how city funds for teacher compensation are  allocated under the most recent contract and should inform the creation of the next teacher’s contract, currently under discussion.”

Gov. Deval Patrick recently announced that pay for state political leaders—including his own—would be cut to match a drop in pay experienced by the typical Massachusetts household over the past two years, based on an annual survey of income by the U.S. Census. State law requires the governor to adjust state legislators’ salaries every two years. This was the first time since 1998 that salaries will go down instead of up.

The report is focused on pay received by traditional teachers, and not on teachers in schools with innovative schedules or missions, including extended day schools, pilot schools or turnaround schools.

Steps and lanes

A primary focus of the report is on the structure of so-called steps and lanes, which drive increases in pay, but which are not subject to the negotiation of annual increases. Steps reflect the number of years a teacher has been in the schools system. Each step increases a teacher’s pay by 5 percent, in addition to any negotiated increase, through year nine. After that, teachers stop receiving annual step increases, although they can continue to earn increases in pay to reflect their length of service. After step nine, teachers receive longevity pay increases every five years that add considerable additional annual pay. In fiscal year 2011, the BPS budget includes $9.2 million specifically for these increases.

Lanes refer to credits received through graduate study and degrees that may result from that study, whether or not they are related to the academic work for which a teacher is responsible. As long as a subject is taught by anyone within the Boston Public Schools, course credits accrued increase the lane a teacher is in, and as a result increase that teachers pay.

In one example, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree plus 15 graduate credits who has completed three years of service in 2005 would have earned $50,057 in that year. If that teacher then earned a master’s degree by August 2010, he or she would have a pay increase of $24,139 to a total of $74,196, an increase of 48.2 percent in the course of four years.

Added pay given for academic attainment plays an important role in the Boston school budget because the city’s teaching workforce is highly educated. More than 80 percent of local teachers have attained a master’s degree of higher. In addition, the teaching workforce is experienced on average, meaning the average teacher is fairly advanced in terms of the number of steps accrued. Fully 58 percent of Boston teachers are paid at the top step of the salary schedule.

Despite the preponderance of master’s degrees in the Boston teaching workforce, additional compensation for that attainment has not been used as a tool within the contract to incent the teachers to go into the underserved fields, such as science, technology and math that are badly needed in the Boston region.

In addition, extra responsibilities, such as coaching a sport, overseeing the production of a high school yearbook or a managing a drama club, can add to a teacher’s base pay. In addition, health insurance is offered to all teachers.

It is important to note that all increases driven by advancing steps and lanes come on top of a 14 percent compounded salary increase for teachers negotiated by the Boston Teachers Union under the terms of the recently expired contract. That increase is provided in increments in the course of the four years covered by the contract.

Compared to other communities

Boston has the highest base salaries for teachers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, compared to eight surrounding cities and towns. Boston teachers also have the highest maximum pay levels and may more quickly reach their maximum pay than teachers in any of the surrounding municipalities. For example, a Boston teacher begins with approximately $2,300 more than a beginning teacher in the Newton school department. Newton teachers as a group have the second highest base pay in the area. By comparison, teachers in Somerville begin with about $7,500 less in base pay than beginning Boston teachers.

Boston’s average teacher pay of $79,415 was higher than the average for the state of Massachusetts ($67,577), although teachers in a couple of towns (Brookline and Cambridge) were higher. In those towns, it takes longer to reach the maximum level of pay than it does in Boston.

Shorter day, year

Although Boston teacher pay is high compared to pay in similar districts, Boston teachers work fewer hours in the course of a year than their counterparts throughout the country.  Teachers in Baltimore are contractually obligated to work 1,346 hours; teachers in Seattle work 1,358 hours; and teachers in Washington, D.C., work 1,470 hours a year compared to just 1,220 hours for Boston teachers.

According to research published in 2009 by the National Council on Teacher Quality, Boston teachers have one of the shortest school work years with among the NCTQ’s 100-school district database, with 183 days of obligation, three beyond the 180-day school year. The average is for eight days past the school year, compared to three for Boston. The report also found that Boston teachers have more days of leave and more kinds of leave than most districts in their database. For example, Boston’s teachers’ contract allows for days off for certain religious holidays even though Boston students are expected to be in attendance on those days.


The report ends by noting that while teacher compensation is high for Boston teachers compared with their peers in the area and across the nation, the system of pay does not align resources with support for student achievement. Nor is there any connection between advances in teacher pay and the quality of that teacher’s performance according to any measurable outcome. While it does not make specific recommendations about changes that could be included in the new teacher contract currently under consideration it does indicate that the Boston Public Schools/ new Redesign and Reinvest plan does envision changes in the new collective bargaining contract.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with assets of $733 million.  In Fiscal Year 2009, the Foundation and its donors made more than $82 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of close to $83 million. The Foundation is made up of some 900 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.  The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges.  For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit or call 617-338-1700.