Salary supplements for school-based clinicians are now in place in three California districts—the San Diego, Carlsbad, and Natomas unified school districts—that used a variety of strategies to win salary increases for more than 450 speech-language pathologists.
In the San Diego Unified School District (USD)—the second-largest district in California and eighth-largest in the nation—SLPs are now on a separate salary scale that raises the base salary for clinicians with less than 10 years of services by about $15,000. Additional salary supplements reward SLPs with ASHA certification or state licensure with an additional $2,000 annually; those with a bilingual certificate from a university receive another $2,000 annually.
"The bulk of our personnel shortages occur with clinicians with 10 years or less of service," said Claudia Dunaway, the district's lead SLP as well as a member of the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association Nominating Committee and the local union Caseload Review Committee. "We tend to retain SLPs with more than 10 years of experience because the teacher salary schedule is higher at the upper levels of service. We hope this will address our shortage problem."
Solving the personnel shortage is mutually beneficial for the district, which stands to save up to $1 million in costs for contracted positions, Dunaway noted. "Many of these (contract) SLPs initially interviewed with the district or did their student teaching here. They wanted to come to our district but couldn't afford to become employees—they could make more money as contracted SLPs."
The clinicians' timing of their salary proposal was critical. Dunaway raised the issue just as the school district and the teachers union, the San Diego Education Agency, were beginning contract negotiations. "A group of about 30 SLPs lobbied the union for representation on the negotiating team and got it," said Dunaway, who wrote a separate salary scale proposal that was later presented to the negotiating team by senior SLP and union activist Nancy Harrelson.
"The proposal was substantive and compelling," Dunaway noted. "There really was no argument once everyone saw the financial benefit to the district." The district's budget analyst confirmed that the figures presented in the proposal were accurate, and the proposed salary schedule and stipends were added to the larger contract, which was approved in November 2006. The new salary scale, which is permanent and does not require clinicians to re-apply, becomes effective July 1, 2007.
"The new salary scale is a great recruitment incentive," Dunaway said. "Our starting pay is now better than most other private and public agencies. Most importantly it will help us establish a stable, high-quality speech and language program that will benefit students with speech and language impairments."
To the north, SLPs in the Carlsbad USD launched a two-year campaign for a salary supplement after learning that the teachers' contract provided a stipend for certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The SLP supplement is a permanent addition of $2,000–$3,000 annually for those who hold the CCC, depending on current placement on the pay scale, and does not require clinicians to re-apply.
"Obtaining a salary supplement was very important to us," said Gretchen Graovac-Mays, an SLP for the district who brings an activist background to California from the Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Western New York as well as the New York state association. "We were looking for recognition of the specialized training and advanced education that is needed to provide services within the public school population."
After spending a year researching the process for obtaining a salary supplement, Graovac-Mays developed a proposal that included a side-by-side comparison of requirements for the NBPTS certification for general education teachers and the ASHA CCC (found on ASHA's Certification Web site), a copy of the CCC, and an ASHA membership card. The proposal was sent to the district superintendent, personnel manager, union representative, and special education coordinator, and Graovac-Mays met with the district superintendent to discuss the proposal. Nearly a year later, she was notified that the proposal was accepted and that the 14 district SLPs also would receive retroactive pay for the previous year as the result of a raise.
In Sacramento, SLPs in the Natomas USD achieved a separate salary scale that includes a 2.42% increase above the regular teachers' salary, yet contains the same number of working hours and days as teachers. The increase is a permanent change that should remain in effect indefinitely, without the need to re-apply.
"It's a small victory but a good start," said SLP Holly Willet, who organized the effort and arranged meetings with the local teachers union negotiating team. "It was important for us to be recognized for the many duties we perform that go above and beyond day-to-day teaching, such as administrative functions. In addition, we feel that this new salary scale is a base that we can work from each year that salary is open for negotiation."
The Natomas district success resulted from professional collaboration, mutual priorities—and compromise. Many school-based SLPs had been lured away from the district by attractive private practices salaries, Willet said. Over the past several years, the district experienced a high SLP turnover rate, but received few applications for vacancies. Three openings were filled by contracted employees.
Recognizing that salary was a critical factor, the seven district SLPs joined forces last spring and approached the local teachers union, the Natomas Teachers Association, to propose a salary supplement for clinicians who hold the ASHA CCCs. The clinicians found a receptive audience among the negotiating team, which shared a concern about the personnel shortage. The district administration offered to place the SLPs on the school psychologist pay scale, but the clinicians rejected the proposal. "It involved working longer hours and more days during the academic year," Willet noted. "We would have been paid more money for more work, which wasn't a true pay raise."
In the end, compromise was the key to victory. The administration agreed to a scale that had work hours and days equivalent to those of teachers, and the teachers union agreed to a lower salary scale than originally requested. The new scale was ratified by the union last October and became part of the 2006–2007 contract. It is open to all clinicians, regardless of CCC certification, Willet explained, to assist the district in recruiting clinical fellow candidates.
Ken Whittemore, assistant superintendent for Natomas USD, said that he hopes the new salary scale "will make us more attractive to speech and language professionals as they look for jobs. I feel we will be able to use this as a valuable recruiting tool when I visit job fairs and college campuses."
A Growing Movement
These California successes bring the total to 74 school districts in 20 states that have achieved salary supplements. Additionally, 10 states have enacted salary supplement legislation (Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, West Virginia); statewide annual supplements range from $1,750 (Rhode Island) to $6,000 (Mississippi and Delaware).
Local district and state supplement charts, with contact information, are available at ASHA's State Policy Resources. For additional information on salary supplements, contact Eileen Crowe, ASHA's director of state association relations, at email@example.com, or 301-897-5667.