Wednesday, February 12, 2020
By Jeff Mitchell, Head of School, Currey Ingram Academy, Brentwood, TN


As a companion to the comprehensive 2019 SAIS Human Resources Survey Report, this FastStats highlights base salary and total compensation trends for NAIS and SAIS schools, some underlying factors that influence the setting of salaries in independent schools, and some unsung benefitsof working in independent schools. I encourage you to use these trends to inform strategic discussion at your school about how to recruit and retain talented faculty and staff.

Base Salaries & Total Compensation

In previous FastStats, base salaries for NAIS and SAIS teachers showed a modest upward trend. Figure 1 below includes updated data and portrays a continuation of that trend. For the 7-year period shown (2013-14 through 2019-20), the median NAIS faculty salary has increased from $52,000 to $58,500, or about 14 percent. The median SAIS faculty salary has increased from $47,700 to $50,410, or about 6 percent. 

There continues to be a gap between SAIS and NAIS base salaries, typically around 6 percent annually. Although only to a slight degree, this gap seems to have widened in the past two years. Perhaps of more significance is that the 6 percent median salary increase over the past 7 years across SAIS schools does not keep pace with the modest, approximately 2%, increase in the cost of living.

As shown in Figure 2 below, the 10-year trend for total compensation is similar to the salary trend. It is the case, however, that when additional compensation elements beyond salary are considered, the median increase for SAIS schools of almost 20% parallels that for all NAIS schools. Thus, it seems SAIS schools placed a relative emphasis on other compensation elements that made up for slow salary growth.

Influences on Salary Decisions

In the February 2019 FastStats, I explored influences on faculty salaries in NAIS and SAIS schools. Some interesting conclusions were drawn from the analyses, including the following: 

Tenure: The median experience of a faculty member has hovered around 15 years for many years, contrary to what one might expect due to the large number of baby boomers (with significant experience) retiring and being replaced by younger teachers (with minimal experience).

Salary Scale: The percentage of schools utilizing a “salary scale” has stayed consistent for the past 15 years at around 50-60 percent. This too, is surprising. I would have thought a much higher percentage of schools utilized a scale for faculty salaries.

Teaching Experience: About 85 percent, not 100 percent as I might have thought, take experience into account when determining faculty salaries.

Educational Attainment: Like teaching experience, about 85 percent of schools take educational attainment into account when determining salaries. As I mentioned in the January 2019 FastStats, I’m not sure why this would be the case, but the irony of schools not recognizing educational attainment is thought provoking

Teacher Load: Teacher load is the overall number of students assigned to a particular teacher. Consistently over the past 15 years, about 60 percent of schools utilize teacher load as a variable in the salary equation. That is, the more students taught, the higher the base salary.

Merit: For approximately 40 percent of schools, some measure of merit influences salary decisions. This is always an interesting culturally influenced debate in schools.

Unsung Benefits

As a head of school, I recognize that our schools are nothing without the knowledgeable and passionate people we employ. So, with frequency, I revisit all of our compensation indicators, from the most apparent (e.g., base salary, medical, retirement) to the more subtle unsung benefits.

As with most non-profits, financial realities place restraints on faculty and staff compensation. There are, however, an array of other possible unsung benefits that can make an appreciable difference. While this is by no means definitive, I will elaborate on some of the more significant elements that heads of school factor into the conversation. 

In terms of quantifiable benefits that directly impact the bottom line for faculty and staff, offering free or reduced lunch and snacks can save an employee as much as $2,000 per year, and the hassle of making their own lunch. Tuition remission and enhanced financial aid can be a six-figure benefit over time for employees with children. Similarly, if the school has a daycare on site, the potential monetary and convenience benefit is considerable for faculty and staff with young children. At boarding schools, providing housing or a housing allowance can be a game-changing benefit.  

During interviews, especially if I know the candidate is weighing the compensation package of my school versus a public school, I am quick to point to additional income opportunities. These may come in the form of stipends for coaching or clubs, tutoring, and after-school or summer program involvement. 

Relatedly, a lever I have used in my school is to employ FTE overages. My school has a very fluid enrollment environment compared to most, and every year we need to add faculty to accommodate new students entering during the school year. As every head knows, finding faculty—especially qualified good fits—only gets more challenging when you are not in the main hiring cycle. 

At Currey Ingram we will, on occasion, offer additional fractions of FTEs to current staff members. Their decision is whether to give up planning time to teach another section for more pay. For example, if they decide to teach an extra class, their FTE goes from 1.0 to 1.2, and we pay them 20% more. Using overages eliminates the unknowns of hiring a person from a very short list of candidates; for the willing teacher, it provides a nice opportunity to supplement what they take home.

The final category of unsung benefits is more difficult to quantify but not at all insignificant. There are work quality features that add to the professional experience of independent school educators. The autonomy, for example, that most independent educators have is deeply appreciated.

More tangibly, independent school faculty usually have significantly more non-instructional time. In a given week an independent school educator will have approximately 500 minutes of non-instructional time, whereas in public schools, 200 minutes is typical. Additionally, because independent school teachers will teach fewer classes and because they will have fewer students in these classes, all other things being equal, their teaching load is lighter. Not to mention, we often provide a wonderful culture and environment with well behaved students.

The compensation picture is complex and ever-evolving. Striking the right balance of hard and soft benefits is an ever-present concern for heads of school as we try to fully recognize our faculty.

As always, I welcome the opportunity to keep the conversation going on this or any other topic.

Jeff Mitchell
Head of School
Currey Ingram Academy
Brentwood, TN