QUINCY -- Quincy High School teacher Brandi Many got a first-hand look as Illinois took its next step to deal with a statewide shortage of classroom teachers.
Many was in the audience Thursday as Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation raising teachers' minimum salary to $40,000 over four years.
"This is a good way to help morale, become competitive, get great teachers and keep great teachers," said Many, co-president of the teacher subgroup for the Quincy Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Personnel. "This will improve the district and take us great places."
The current minimum teacher salary ranges from $9,000 to $11,000. The new law raises the minimum to $32,076 for the 2020-21 school year, $34,576 for 2021-22, $37,076 for 2022-23 and $40,00 for 2023-24. After that, the minimum salary will rise based on the Consumer Price Index, subject to review by the General Assembly.
A starting teacher in Quincy Public Schools in the 2019-20 school year earns $35,184, and under the current salary schedule, QPS teachers with a bachelor's degree don't earn $40,000 until year nine.
"The question is do I just raise that minimum salary so that a first-year teacher now makes as much as my teacher in the system for nine years or do we have some sort of graduated increase for all staff members," QPS Superintendent Roy Webb said.
Implementing the new minimum salary fairly -- for both new and experienced teachers -- will be key.
Many said one participant in the district's teacher-leader program, Evie Morrison, put together a research project about how to fund the increase "fair across the board and make everyone happy" which can be a starting point for discussions.
"Teachers deserve to be paid competitively and to be paid well. They have a tough job, and it's an extremely important job," Webb said. "That being said, between the minimum teachers salary and the minimum wage going up to $15 per hour, it's going to have a significant impact on our finances."
Webb said he, the School Board, the administrative team and district teachers will be working together to make the changes happen and be fair to all involved.
"Our School Board very much supports competitive teacher salaries," he said. "I just wish the timeline and decision for that had been left to those seven individuals for the Quincy area."
QPS made significant cuts two years ago to curb deficit spending and this year was able to hire back some positions especially to meet social-emotional needs of students.
"We don't want to go backwards again," Webb said. "We're going to have to be very smart about how we use our finances going forward."
Increased funding from the state should help fund the increase, Many said, and with the phased-in approach, school districts don't have to feel crunched to put in place a measure welcomed by teachers statewide.
If the state "is going to fully fund the evidence-based funding formula, then we could afford that $40,000 minimum wage," Webb said. "If they don't, we're going to have to figure out how to pay for it."
It's a question facing all school districts in the state as they struggle to recruit candidates for teaching jobs.
"It does highlight the state of Illinois has placed a minimum value on our teachers, and so when we're competing against Missouri, Iowa and Indiana, and they're still paying in the $30s, it may and probably will recruit teachers from those areas," Webb said. "That's good for getting that pool of teachers to come to Illinois. The tricky part is figuring how to pay for it."
Webb said needing to make cuts, or boost class sizes, to pay for the minimum salary increase will only hurt recruitment efforts and other district plans to add additional resources and positions.
But Many said the higher minimum salary does take some pressure off of teachers.
"Many do have multiple jobs, and that could help with that," she said. "They could devote more of their time to their families, their teaching, which ultimately is going to benefit their classrooms in the long run."