Part 2 Rethinking Compensation: A Tactical Guide

By Allison Wyatt, Founding Partner, Edgility Consulting

September 10, 2018

In our last blog post, we noted that compensation ought to address the needs of teachers and staff, as well as to the organization’s own objectives. We recommend that you start with establishing a sense of just how competitive you want your compensation to be, and in what specific roles and markets.

Ask your team and board:

  • What is our total value proposition?
  • How competitive do we want/need to be?
  • Where are we in our growth cycle?
  • What is it that we want to reward in this organization?
  • Who are our staff?
  • How do we balance paying competitive market rates with maintaining internal equity?

Doing the Research: How to Study Market Rates

To create a market-based compensation structure, you’ll need to understand where you stand relative to the market, which depending on your organization may include the local school district, similar organizations, as well as other nonprofits, public agencies, and even companies who might be competing with your organization for talent in key roles. Wherever possible, stick to comparisons with your own organization’s industry, mission, geography, and budget/staff size.

To find comparable compensation data, consider searching:

  • Job postings
  • Industry-specific surveys
  • Publicly available data, such as district pay scales, nonprofits’ IRS form 990s (which report pay for the mostly highly compensated employees in each organization) through Guidestar or the Foundation Center, and databases like Transparent California, which logs compensation information for public employees in California

Try to use at least three sources to ensure that the data is sound. At Edgility, we are wary of sites like Glassdoor and Payscale, who sometimes report salaries for jobs based on a very small sample size. We prefer specialized databases like CompAnalyst, which is updated monthly to keep up with fluctuations in the market and covers more than 4,000 benchmark jobs gathered from comprehensive employer surveys.

Creating a Compensation Structure

With data about your organization’s compensation philosophy and comparable market salaries in hand, you can then consider building a pay structure, including:

  • Pay grades or levels, in which similar jobs are grouped together. For example, an entry-level data associate, a reception clerk, and a paraprofessional might all be included in the same grade, with the averages of their market salaries used as the midpoint for that grade, or you might group all principals or program managers in the same grade.
  • Pay ranges or salary spans within those grades or for each role — according to ZipRecruiter, the range typically extends 30% range of the midpoint or average market salary for a junior or support role, 40% for mid-level management, and 50% for executives. New hires tend to earn around the middle of that range, and experienced top performers earn 80-100%.

For particularly large or complex organizations, pay schedules may be created, which vary by business line (in the case of a school organization, this may vary between school sites and the central office) or by location based on the cost of living and competitor salaries in that market.

For example, the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector suggests this starting point salary schedule for teachers in public Montessori charter schools, along with benefits, 2% yearly step increases, periodic retention bonuses, and stipends for taking on additional responsibilities.

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Finally, map current jobs and salaries against the new structure to determine whether your new compensation structure matches existing pay, including whether there is equity across levels, roles, and other characteristics. You’ll get an immediate sense of whether there is equity across the organization, and whether there are adjustments that need to be made.

What Matters Most: What Happens When You Address Compensation

Organizations that take a strategic, research-based approach to compensation find that new employee salaries are easier to set, and that existing employees feel more properly valued and compensated.

“Compensation analysis helped us determine highly beneficial changes that are attracting and retaining top talent,” agrees Margaret Winnen, Director of HR & Talent Development for College Track.

At Compass Charter Schools, Superintendent & CEO J.J. Lewis says his team recently shared a new compensation structure and benefits package with staff, who were pleased that salaries will now account for past teaching experience. Teachers and non-instructional staff will also receive bonuses tied to criteria like workload, enrollment, and student performance.

Over time, happy and appropriately compensated employees translate into less turnover, more stability, and greater productivity — an effort we think is well worth the cost.

About the Author

Allison Wyatt is a founding partner at Edgility Consulting, which finds the leaders that education organizations need to make a difference. Prior to launching Edgility, Allison built and scaled a human capital consulting practice at a national retained executive search firm. In addition, she has served as the vice president of human capital for Education Pioneers.

Part 1 Rethinking Compensation: A Matter of Value

By Allison Wyatt, Founding Partner, Edgility Consulting

August 31, 2018

Staffing is a critical ingredient for any education organization — and finding the right people has never been tougher. For decades, the supply of new teachers has been slowing down, particularly in critical subject areas such as math, science, and English language learning, as well as in high-need low-income schools. Enrollment has dropped in both traditional teacher preparation programs as well as alternative certification routes like Teach for America.

Meanwhile, the rising Millennial generation tends to avoid teaching, wary of what they perceive as a difficult profession with few upsides. “Our generation is impatient and eager to take on greater responsibility and assume leadership roles. Most school districts just aren’t structured to do that,” laments former teacher Jonathan Cetel.

Indeed, across the teaching profession, satisfaction has been decreasing — particularly among teachers of color and those most needed in high-need subjects and schools. “The teaching workforce continues to be a leaky bucket, losing hundreds of thousands of teachers each year—the majority of them before retirement age,” note analysts at the Learning Policy Institute.

While teachers leave for a whole host of reasons, including poor school cultures and lackluster working conditions, compensation is a very real part of the problem — but also a promising part of the solution.

Balancing the Pay Scale

Many education organizations, particularly startup schools trying to make the most of every grant and per-pupil dollar, worry primarily about paying too much for the talent they recruit. In a previous post on this blog, EdTec found that charter schools spend 59% of their budget on salaries and benefits, with brand new schools spending a bit less (53%) and established schools spending more (64%). Many schools choose to hire brand-new teachers and Teach for America corps members in order to stretch their funding, while others pinch pennies on principal and central office salaries so as not to raise board member eyebrows or public scrutiny.

But the cost of paying too little can also add up fast. For every employee who leaves, a district or school spends thousands more on recruiting and training their replacement — as much as $20,000 per employee, finds the Learning Policy Institute. That adds up to a teacher turnover tab of somewhere between $2.2 billion and $7.3 billion nationally each year — not to mention the time and energy required by existing staff to do the recruiting and training, let alone the effect of these frequent changes to colleagues’ working dynamics and to schools’ relationships with students and their families.

Of course, compensation is not a silver bullet for all staffing needs, nor should it stand alone. Compensation should be tied to overall organizational objectives, and to the needs of teachers. Teachers believe in fairness, equity and transparency, and are interested in being compensated for years of experience and degrees (even though research shows that neither of these measures are tied to student learning). Generally, research has found that teachers are not interested in pay-for-performance but somewhat more interested in incentive pay for teaching in hard-to-staff subjects and schools, as well as differentiated pay based on responsibilities and on value-add or growth in student learning.

For example, my organization Edgility Consulting worked with Compass Charter Schools, an online school with 100 staff members serving 17 counties throughout California. Compass recognized that they were competing with more online and brick-and-mortar schools throughout the state for talent, but had no formal compensation structure in place. “2017-18 was a year of both change and growth for Compass. As part of this change and growth, we sought to better understand our competitiveness in the marketplace and if we were being fair and equitable with our total compensation with our staff, as compared to our peer charter schools,” says J.J. Lewis, Superintendent & CEO of Compass.

By conducting focus groups, we learned that teachers and other staff were generally satisfied with their current salaries (although some felt their prior teaching experience was undervalued), but wanted greater equity across the team and more transparency into their earning potential. We helped Compass create a compensation structure with clear guidelines, that recognizes prior teaching experience, and with bonuses tied to student load, student success, and program quality.

Considering Central Office Compensation

Of course, compensation considerations must also extend beyond teachers to include principals, administrators, and other staff, who may be even more likely than teachers to be considering non-education jobs as alternatives to their school-based roles.

For example, we conducted a study of central office compensation for ACE Charter Schools, a nonprofit charter school operator in San Jose, California that now runs four schools serving about 2000 students but is considering national expansion. ACE had recently completed a salary study for teaching staff and wanted to ensure its central office staff were being paid market competitive rates. Upon comparison with districts and charters of similar scale in the San Francisco Bay Area, we found that ACE was generally paying competitively, and provided them with market data to communicate that to staff. In addition, we offered ideas on other types of rewards and recognition to help these employees feel valued.

We also studied the central office compensation of Mastery Charter Schools, a charter school turnaround operator with 24 schools in two states that serve 14,000 students. Mastery was hoping to be more transparent, consistent, and competitive as it grew. Using external market research, we developed market-based salary ranges, mapped internal positions to the structure, and identified staff who fell outside the structure as well as scenarios for reconciling that discrepancy.

Likewise, education nonprofit College Track is a national college completion program that empowers more than 3,000 students annually to earn a college degree and achieve upward social mobility, with more than 100 staff in California, Colorado, Louisiana, and the D.C. Metro Area. They “re-benchmark” their compensation every few years against a set of larger and more complex organizations in order to stay competitive.

We now understand how our compensation and benefits compare to similar organizations in our industry and geographic markets and we were able to get clear on role descriptions and the markets in which they compete, as well as assess our benefits package overall,” says Margaret Winnen, Director of HR & Talent Development for College Track. For example, the compensation analysis highlighted distinctions between different program roles that in turn yielded better comparable salaries to use as benchmarks, and indicated that a more competitive family leave plan would be more valued by their employees.

The Comp Curve: Watch the Road Ahead

Typically, teachers’ dissatisfaction with their salary — as with their working conditions and opportunities for growth — tends to grow as they gain experience. As such, you should be sure to take into account increases over time, and consider developing not only fair compensation frameworks but rather full career pathways that address professional growth and fulfillment as well as pay.

For example, we studied the compensation at Benjamin Banneker Charter School, a single site charter school in Cambridge, Massachusetts with high satisfaction and low turnover. This is despite the fact that Banneker pays their teachers below the market median. The school invests that saved money in robust professional development and significant flexible funds for student projects and field trips. Teachers feel supported, but are also groomed for and promoted into leadership roles. We worked with the organization to establish clear guidelines for salaries and raises based on experience, but teachers were adamant — they would not trade higher salaries for those other more important benefits.

For more guidance on how to go about studying your organization’s compensation against the market and setting up a clear, equitable, and transparent framework — as well as more details on the results these organizations have achieved by clarifying their own compensation strategies — check back next week for our follow-up blog post.

About the Author

Allison Wyatt is a founding partner at Edgility Consulting, which finds the leaders that education organizations need to make a difference. Prior to launching Edgility, Allison built and scaled a human capital consulting practice at a national retained executive search firm. In addition, she has served as the vice president of human capital for Education Pioneers.

Charter Renewal Do’s and Don’ts from an Authorizer’s Lens

By Stephanie Cho, Business Development Manager, EdTec Inc.

Originally published October 2011

Renewal can be a daunting process for even the most prepared and organized charter schools. The process is time-consuming and often produces anxiety within the community. The uncertainty and politics that surround charter approvals and renewals. In an effort to shed light on what authorizers look for from schools going through renewal, EdTec conducted interviews with authorizers from around the state, to provide their charter renewal advice and get their take on how schools can equip themselves to emerge successful.

Keith Butler

Business Advisory Services Consultant

San Diego County Office of Education

Q: What have you seen schools do that make for a successful renewal petition?

A: Successful schools start early and carefully watch for deadlines (often in June). Schools that don’t plan ahead and are still making significant corrections in March and April are bound to fall short. It’s important for schools to come to an agreement with their authorizers on oversight. Figure out what is expected ahead of time in this area and address those expectations.

Q: What are some common issues you see schools fail to address in their petitions that hurt their renewal efforts?

A: Common pitfalls tend to happen in the budget assumptions. I want to be sure that the numbers presented in the petition budget are based on reality. The school needs to be able to back up their enrollment numbers and provide evidence to support other assumptions. This can be a growth plan, and other details such as what a school is paying for its liability insurance. Schools can run into problems when the funding rates used are not from SSC (School Services of California), the ADA isn’t sufficiently backed up, or cash flow timing isn’t accurate or consistent with county projections. Expenses should tie to both the school’s historical data and incorporate what’s on the horizon. For example, healthcare costs year over year should be consistent with previous policies (e.g. a cap) and anticipate future needs. Expenses should be clearly laid out and classified by category and object code. Overall, the financials should include actuals as well as a good list of assumptions for the projections.

Q: What would you like to see more of when you review renewal petitions?

A: More documentation and specification that backs up what’s written. For example, the school’s learning outcomes – what methods exactly is the school using to achieve those outcomes? I would like to see how schools are meeting the various measurable pupil outcomes (MPOs). When shortcomings are identified, I’d like to see schools put a system in place that lays out exactly how to drive change and what results are expected to come of it.

Q: Sometimes schools put in very aggressive goals in their original petitions, often at the request of the authorizer, and then fall short of meeting those goals. What can a charter do in that situation?

A: Revise your projections early with various scenarios that are reasonable. For example, show that you’ve thought through the different scenarios that could happen. Have projections based on current data, current projections plus a cost of living adjustment to your salaries, current projections plus cuts, etc. On the instructional side, the goal is to show that you know what you’re doing and are able to offer realistic alternatives if the status quo isn’t working.

Q: What is your main piece of charter renewal advice to schools that are going through the renewal process this year?

A: My main piece of charter renewal advice is to agree with your authorizer on expectations regarding oversight guidelines, keep communications up, and it should go smoothly.

José J. Cole-Gutiérrez

Director, Charter Schools

Innovation and Charter Schools Division, LAUSD

Q: What have you seen schools do that make for a successful renewal petition?

A: More effective schools are the ones planning well ahead the year before renewal. These schools have gone through each and every year, well aware of how they have done performance-wise, engaged their communities, engaged their boards, and have made the time for self-assessment. This is why they earn another five years. These schools can also address what they can improve in the next five years. Smaller things that schools have done include looking at the LAUSD oversight report on a yearly basis, taking corrective action when necessary, and communicating with their assigned renewal team well ahead of time. Schools that do well have addressed problems in advance. During the actual renewal process LAUSD should not have to go back to those issues. On the finance side, finances should be in good order and the cash flow and balance sheet need to look strong.

Q: What would you like to see more of when you review renewal petitions?

A: More of a demonstration of community and staff support. I’d also like to see folks addressing outstanding issues and what they want to accomplish in the next five years. Ultimately, I want to see a strong performing school that meets what leaders said they would do and the standard of the law.

Q: What is your main piece of charter renewal advice to schools that are going through the renewal process this year?

A: Be very clear and proud of your accomplishments as candidly as possible. Celebrate! At the same time, let us know what challenges you face and how you plan to deal with them. Looking back, ask yourself how did we do? What did we do well and how can we do more of that? Looking forward, how will we change? Regarding financial challenges, how can we be more prudent?

Q: Do you have any other comments?

A: LAUSD has 30 schools up for renewal this year. In many cases, this is more than districts have in charters total. We want to make it an efficient process for community, staff, and the school, and we value a collaborative approach with schools. LAUSD believes in high performing schools and holding schools accountable. We are open to those conversations on how schools have done.

Gail Greely

Coordinator, Office of Charter Schools

Oakland Unified School District

Q: What have you seen schools do that make for a successful renewal petition?

A: Our office publishes both a Petition Evaluation Instrument for all charter petitions and a Charter Renewal Handbook that includes guidance on the renewal process and on the charter renewal quality standards.  Using these resources can help a school produce a more complete document that supports their case for renewal with specific evidence related to our standards. However, the specific content of the school’s renewal petition is less important than the quality of its performance throughout the preceding charter term.

Q: What are some common issues you see schools fail to address in their petitions that hurt their renewal efforts?

A: Our quality standards cover four key questions: 1) Is the school academically sound?; 2) Is the school an effective and viable organization?; 3) Has the school been faithful to the terms of its charter?; and 4) Is the school’s petition reasonably comprehensive?  A school that has not implemented the program described in the charter and has not met or made substantial progress towards meeting the measurable pupil outcomes (MPOs) in its charter is unlikely to be renewed.  Note that making a case for meeting or making substantial progress towards MPOs involves using data that the school has been collecting over the entire term of the charter, so strong data collection systems are critical. We respect the charter as an agreement between the district and the school. The school accepts strong accountability in exchange for increased autonomy. They are accountable for achieving the outcomes described in their charter, so schools that fail to address these, or fail to describe why they have taken a different approach, hurt their renewal efforts.

Q: What would you like to see more of when you review renewal petitions?

A: Charter renewal provides a chance for the school to reflect on the preceding years and engage in serious self-evaluation, involving all stakeholders. We believe a quality school should take this opportunity to revise its charter to include plans for continuous improvement in all aspects of the academic program, management, and governance.

Q: Sometimes schools put in very aggressive goals in its original petition, often at the request of the authorizer, and then fall short of meeting those goals. What can a charter do in that situation?

A: Our quality standards look for student outcomes that are aligned with the school’s mission: clear, specific and measurable, and ambitious yet attainable. Because we review a school’s performance with respect to its student outcomes every year, a school concerned about over-ambitious goals should be raising the issue with our office during the charter term. Then during charter renewal, the school can provide in its petition an explanation (based on reliable data) of why the outcomes were not met (or substantial progress was not made) and describe what they propose as ambitious and attainable goals for the next charter term.

Q: When do you advise a school to submit their petition, and what specific information do you request, above and beyond the normal petition?

A: We accept charter renewal petitions no earlier than October 1st of the charter’s final year and recommend submission no later than the end of January. Schools that consider themselves at risk of denial may wish to submit earlier to allow time for appeals. In addition to the charter petition, we require a Performance Report that is to be prepared in draft prior to our site inspection and then finalized as part of the charter renewal submission.

Q: Are there things prior to the one year renewal process that you would like to see charters do? What would you like to see three years ahead of renewal? Two years?

A: From the first day of operation, schools should make sure that they are tracking the MPOs to which they have committed in their charters. Progress toward achievement of these outcomes should be checked regularly throughout the school year, with program adjustments made in response. As renewal approaches, but while there is still time for meaningful change, schools should review the renewal quality standards published by our office and honestly assess their own performance. Rather than viewing charter renewal as a periodic compliance task, the MPOs and charter renewal standards should be integrated into the school’s continuous improvement process.

Dr. Lucretia D. Peebles

Director, Charter Schools Department

Santa Clara County Office of Education

Q: What have you seen schools do that make for a successful renewal petition?

A: The ones that are successful are conscious of new laws pertaining to renewals. Successful schools also set up meetings, understand expectations, understand if anything has changed in the guidelines, and get the information up front to find out the requirements. It is the school’s responsibility to know the laws, understand what the guidelines are ahead of time, and understand logistics.

Q: What would you like to see more of when you review renewal petitions?

A: More comprehensive in the educational program section, more clarity in governance, and how parents will be included.

Q: Sometimes schools put in very aggressive goals in its original petition, often at the request of the authorizer, and then fall short of meeting those goals. What can a charter do in that situation?

A: Be as transparent about your goals as you can. Develop realistic objectives and be aware of what you can implement. You might need to do a material revision if you aren’t meeting goals, and you should talk to your authorizer about the best way to go about this. Be up front about your problems.

Q: When do you advise a school to submit their petition, and what specific information do you request, above and beyond the normal petition?

A: Early fall for a charter expiring the following June would be best practice.

Q: What is your main piece of charter renewal advice to schools that are going through the renewal process this year?

A: Become familiar with guidelines and work with your authorizer so that you understand how the process will be handled. Know times and roles and responsibilities.


EdTec would like to thank the above authorizers for contributing their time, knowledge and charter renewal advice. All of the authorizers echoed throughout each interview that renewal should not be viewed as simply an obligatory assignment to be completed every five years, but rather, a continuous process to track progress and improve the school. All charters face renewal at some point, and no matter where your school might currently fall on that timeline, it’s always a good time to:

  • Stay in the know on requirements and timelines. Rules and laws related to the renewal process are continually changing and it’s critical to stay on top of which ones apply to your school. Furthermore, your authorizer might have specific oversight guidelines and timelines they want you to follow. In general, it is recommended you start drafting your renewal petition 18 months to no less than a year in advance of the charter expiration date. This will give you adequate time for back and forth communications between you and your authorizer and an appeals process if necessary. Check with your authorizer regarding exact timelines for submitting the renewal petition.
  • Maintain constant and open contact with your authorizer. Communication is particularly important because you want to create context around both the successes and shortcomings of your school well before the renewal year. Authorizers appreciate transparency and want schools to be realistic about their plans. Come to an agreement on oversight ahead of time and know what their expectations are so you can tailor your petition to address any specific concerns.
  • Utilize data assessment and analysis. While qualitative aspects such as positive testimonials are important, authorizers like to see hard facts and longitudinal assessment data to substantiate how you are meeting your goals and delivering results. Concrete, specific and measurable data is a convincing way to show your authorizer that you can both back up your claims on past performance and have a tool for formative assessments going forward. Use data analysis to showcase your successes. At the same time, the data can expose your weaknesses – so be honest about the areas you’re looking to improve, and how you plan to focus on those areas.
  • Get a strong handle on your finances. The petition budget and cash flow are concrete areas that your authorizer will review closely, especially in this unforgiving economic environment. Make sure your assumptions make sense with the goals outlined in the rest of your petition. Be able to speak intelligently on the financial situation of your school. If you are working with any consultants or back-office providers in this area, leverage them to go through every assumption with you so that you have a thorough understanding of your finances.
  • Engage key stakeholders. Don’t wait until you are walking into your renewal hearing to garner community support. Authorizers want to see an active, involved board that is well aware of the details of the renewal petition, along with parents, staff, and students who are genuinely excited and interested in the continued existence of their school.
  • Set aside time for regular self-evaluation. Throughout each year, periodically reflect on how your school is meeting the MPOs pledged in its original charter. Set up a process for developing program adjustments to address any deficiencies. Have a team devoted to self assessment and responsible for executing and holding the school accountable to a results-oriented action plan.
  • Budget time and resources for strategic planning. In addition to regular check-ins on the progress of meeting the charter’s MPOs, plan time for key stakeholders to establish real, viable tactics for the long-term health and wellbeing of your school. Conduct a needs assessment and develop a clear strategic roadmap to establish and tackle long-term objectives for the sustainability of your school.

Though many aspects of the renewal process can be trying, you should remember that it is also a great opportunity to showcase your school’s strengths and accomplishments. Stay in control of the process by starting early and regularly communicating with your authorizer. This gives yourself the best chance possible at getting your charter renewed.