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Brown Deer school district officials call hiring process rigorous, appropriate

District still uses pre-Act 10 salary schedule to determine starting pay

Aug. 8, 2012

Brown Deer - Spurred on by concerns from one of its members over the cost of a recent hire, the Brown Deer School Board reviewed the district's hiring process at length Tuesday afternoon at a board retreat.

"We felt that it would be good idea to get an idea of the process of hiring staff, particularly faculty," School Board President Gary Williams told a gathering of principals and administrative staff from around the district. "This is in no way questioning decisions that have been made. Instead, it's an attempt at getting some clarification on how (administration) arrives at those decisions."

Those in attendance described a process in which applicants are amassed by the Wisconsin Education Career Access Network (WECAN), whittled down based on experience, education and certification requirements, and interviewed by panels before recommendation to administration.

Though board member Barry Godshaw wasn't in attendance Tuesday, his criticism at a recent meeting of a $63,000 new hire salary raised the question of how starting salaries are determined. Finance Director Emily Koczela said that although Act 10 prohibits the use of the district's salary schedule - which plotted out pay grades based on educational experience and years of service - when giving raises, the district continues to use it when calculating starting salaries.

"That's really the main use it still has," Koczela said.

From many, to few, to one

The process of selecting a new teacher, Koczela said, begins when a district principal gets approval from administration to fill a position, and the districts creates a job posting on WECAN, the central hub through which prospective Wisconsin teachers find and apply for jobs, and districts around the state find applicants.

The total pool of applicants, district principals and administrative staff say, is often significantly larger than the shortened list of applicants the district chooses for interviews based on experience level, diversity of teaching environments and specific certifications. District officials shrink the applicant pool based on those criteria to somewhere "south of 10," said high school Principal James Piatt, typically between four to six.

"We usually do dual screening," Piatt said. "We'll have a departmental member and an administrator screen applicants."

From there, applicants are subject to the district's interview process. Dean Elementary Principal Kortney Smith told the board that her interviewing process often includes staff members in the same or similar field as applicants, in addition to other teachers and a parent.

"The expectation is that we have a diverse perspective on the candidate we select," Smith said.

Ultimately the decision on who to hire is made by principals and referred to Superintendent Debra Kerr, who conducts the final interview before making a recommendation to the School Board.

Paying for experience

Though the district sometimes hires cheaper, less experienced teachers who usually present their talent as undergraduate student teachers or aides and whom the principals typify as "rock stars," Koczela said the district typically goes after more experienced applicants - at an increased cost.

"The best candidates are the ones we want," Koczela said, "even if they're more expensive."

What constitutes best, district officials said, is usually a combination of experience, sought after teaching certifications and diversity of prior teaching environments. Those qualifications, said board member Kevin Klimek, end up eliminating a large share of potential applicants, invalidating, to a certain extent, the idea that a large pool of applicants should necessarily result in cheaper labor.

"Anecdotally, people will say, 'the economy is bad, there a lot of teachers out looking for work, so why can't you hire someone for less money?' " Klimek said, "but if you're looking for specific licensures, you can say, 'yes, we had 400 applicants, but nine were qualified.' "

Of the several hundred applicants for the teaching job and $63,000 starting salary which caused a stir at the last meeting, eight had the specific qualifications the district was looking for, Koczela said.

The starting pay for that teacher, and all teachers at this point, is determined by the salary schedule, which the district had used before Act 10 to determine appropriate starting salaries and raises based on years of service and educational experience. That salary schedule serves as a guide when it comes to determining starting pay, Kerr said, because without it the district would need to negotiate wages individually with its entire staff at contract renewals and at hire.

Koczela said that, as the state works toward a model - and possible mandate - for evaluating and compensating teachers, that method may change.

"When the state, as a group, has created a coherent evaluation," Koczela said, "then we can redo that salary schedule."

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