The Longevity Increase—What?

Article by Paul E. Peterson, 18 April 2011

Teacher union leaders are outraged that the Watertown, Mass. school committee has rejected a negotiated contract that would give them a longevity increase.  A longevity increase!?!  That’s extra payment for just “Being There.”  If you just show up, you get more dollars in your pocket.

Never has a pay increase been so aptly titled.  The longevity increase goes to those teachers who have reached the highest step on the salary scale but want more money nonetheless.  They are the best-paid teachers in the system and, often, the most powerful members of the teachers union.   Since the longevity increase goes only to a few teachers, the cost to the district is not as great as an across-the-board increase. No wonder negotiators give in to the union on this one.

All of this would be just fine, if the most experienced teachers were the best teachers. But as I discuss in a previous post, teacher effectiveness actually tails off in the latter years of teaching.

Not that the longevity increase is the item that most irritated the Watertown school committee. The proposed contract calls for a 1.5 percent across-the-board increase in salaries in the coming year, and another 2.5 percent the following year—at a time when many Watertown taxpayers feel lucky if they just have a job. According to the town manager, the contract “would result in the layoff of eight young teachers” next year and “16 to 17 teachers” in the year following.  Young teachers get fired first, because those with longevity also have the seniority that keeps them in place, no matter how ineffective they have become.

Since the average Watertown teacher is already getting $70,826 as well as free medical care and a pension at no cost, the manager thought the town needed to give higher priority to the $1.5 million deficit it was facing.

But it is the longevity increase that strikes me as the most bizarre part of the proposed contract.  Why are we paying people just for aging in place?    How widespread and deep-seated is the practice? When and where was it invented? My hometown of Wellesley just gave their longevities an increase, and I heard about this practice in Illinois many years ago. But are those the exceptions?

If you know of it going on in your community, I would love to hear about it.

Still, I am not altogether opposed to longevity increases.  I’ve been at Harvard for 23 years and, even though my salary has crept upward nearly every year, it’s time my longevity be acknowledged. I’m going to the Dean about the matter next week. Harvard’s fiscal crisis is not so serious that he can’t comfort and support the more advanced members of the community. It won’t cost all that much.