Salary negotiations are not the most exciting thing. Asking for more money is absolutely anxiety-inducing.

But it’s sometimes a necessary part of the hiring process, even in the education sector.

So you may be wondering, “Are teacher salaries negotiable?”

For K-12 public school teachers in the U.S, salary negotiations are not common. Salaries are usually determined according to a “stepped” pay scale with increases given based on set criteria. However, in the private school sector, salary negotiations are more common.

This article shows you how salary negotiations work in the education sector plus gives you tips for negotiating your private school salary like a boss!

Are Teacher Salaries Negotiable? How It Works In K-12 Public Schools

First, let’s get something out of the way about public schools.

Go to almost any public school district’s website, and you’ll find somewhere within the “Jobs” or Human Resources section a teacher salary schedule, or pay scale.

This information is freely available to the public and details exactly how much teachers are paid.

It may also give information on supplemental or stipend pay for duties such as sports coaching, teaching in a high-needs area (e.g. bilingual, special education), or heading an extracurricular activity (e.g. Head of Yearbook Committee).

There is hardly any room for negotiation for salaries on a particular step.

So if you’re thinking to teach in a K-12 public school and wondering, “Are teacher salaries negotiable?”, herein lies your answer: probably not.

If you’ve ever negotiated your public school teacher salary above your years of experience (not including supplemental and stipend pay increases), lucky you! It’s rare for K-12 public school teachers to successfully negotiate a higher salary above her determined salary step.

But What If I Want More Money?

Advanced degrees and working in high-needs areas may grant you a little more money.

Let’s take a look at a teacher pay scale snippet for a local school district in my area.

0 Years of Experience = $53,000

1 Year of Experience  =  $53,500

2 Years of Experience = $54,000

3 Years of Experience = $54,500

4 Years of Experience = $55,000

5 Years of Experience = $55,500

6 Years of Experience = $56,000

7 Years of Experience = $56,500

8 Years of Experience = $57,000

This salary schedule continues up to 25 years of experience and is specifically for teachers.

Very often there are separate pay scales for counselors, principals, speech pathologists, and other professionals whose pay is sometimes more than teachers.

Note that years of experience is for formal K-12 teaching. That does not include tutoring or teaching English abroad (usually).

I also discovered that private school teaching isn’t always eligible unless you can prove that the teaching environment had similar learning objectives and accreditation standards as the public school in which you are now seeking employment.

If you’re looking for more money, determine if the school gives stipends or supplemental pay.

For example, for the pay scale listed above, stipends of $1,100 (Master’s Degree) and $2,200 (Doctorate Degree) are provided.  Take a look at the full list of stipends offered at this particular district.

So if you want more money, see if you’re eligible for any stipends available in your district.

Are Teacher Salaries Negotiable in K-12 Private Schools?

Because they aren’t fully regulated by the government, K-12 private schools have more leeway and decision-making in what they pay teachers.

While salaries are generally lower compared to their K-12 counterparts, private school teachers may have some negotiating power in the hiring process. This is a big maybe however.

Some private schools utilize set salary schedules. If your prospective school does, your negotiation requests may be less effective. 

I’ve found that administrators in the private school sector have the greatest negotiating power, but as a teacher, bring it up at some point (NOT the first interview) if salary is important to you and you think the school is a good fit.

I found myself in this position a few years back.

A private school reached out to me about an elementary math position, and I was stoked… until I learned of the salary.  I was like, “Oh no way! Are they serious!?”

Bummer! I gently declined the offer.

A few days later, the Head of the school reached out to ask for feedback as to why I had declined (I believe he was shocked because everything had gone well in the interviews up to that point).

I respectfully told him why, and boy, that’s when the negotiating begin! He was willing to deal, and I was willing to play!

Game on!

Salary Negotiations Don’t Always Work Out

We played this back-and-forth game for a few emails, and in the end, it was a no for me. He was fine with that and wished me well. 

I must say that he was very graceful with this exit response.

This was an out-of-state job, and while he did raise the salary about 5K, it still wasn’t enough to justify me moving to an entirely different state with a much higher cost of living than what I was used to (Rhode Island, just in case you’re wondering).

I was better off staying where I was.

But here’s what I got out of that experience: I learned how to negotiate and not be afraid of doing so!

6 Tips for Negotiating Your K-12 Private School Teacher Salary

1. First, look up the school’s Form 990

This IRA informational tax form, filed annually, is for tax-exempt organizations with certain financial assets and receipts over a determined threshold.

As of 2019, Part VII of this form lists the highest paid employees at the school.

How is this information useful to you?

You’ll get a general idea about the school’s budget and salary limits.

If the Head of School is paid $60,000 annually, then you know not to negotiate from or around that starting part as a teacher.

Public school pay scales, while higher than private schools, are not a fair baseline from which to compare either.

Find form 990s online at ProPublica.

2. Glassdoor.com is helpful.

Search the prospective school’s average teacher salaries (for those positions similar to yours). You could base your starting bid there.

3. Always bid much higher than you think you ought to get paid.

Start high.

For example, if I know the average elementary teacher at the school with 5 years of experience receives around 45K annually, I’d start my bid at 55K. That considers my experience and advanced degree.

If the Head comes back with 50K, I’ll ask for 54K. I’ll continue like this until a happy medium is met

4.  If the salary negotiation doesn’t go as planned, bargain for other benefits.

You could try and negotiate for a moving allowance or ask for a preferred grade level.

There are more things to negotiate other than money.

5.  Be willing to walk away.

Be will to walk away if the Head and/or hiring committee gets short with your reasonable requests.

In all reality, private schools should be transparent with their compensation packages.

Whenever I realize negotiations are on the table, I almost always feel that at least someone is getting screwed at the school. Something about that doesn’t ring ethical to me, but that’s what it’s about folks!

6. Ask to speak with a current teacher.

Inquire about the job description and daily happenings at the school. The hiring committee will see this as normal, and it is.

During your communications with the contact, bring up the topic of salary.

Don’t ask about his/her salary directly, but you could word the questions like this:

“So, what is the average pay of the teachers in the elementary?” Do teachers generally complain about their pay? Are they content? Are there opportunities to earn more?”

Mix these questions with others about the job description.

Some receivers of your questions will feel uncomfortable answering, BUT when negotiating teacher salaries, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The worst thing would be to arrive at a school and then realize you were bamboozled!

how to negotiate teacher salary

Are Teacher Salaries Negotiable at the Preschool Level?

K-12 public school and many state-funded preschool teachers determine their pay based on the same pay scale that grade school educators do.

Bingo!

For preschool teachers in PK-12 private schools, salary offerings are usually on par with the other levels. But this isn’t always the case. Some preschool teachers are paid hourly.

Negotiate the hourly rate if you can justify it. It’s worth a shot.

Unfortunately, for preschool teachers, pay expectations are set low for a variety of reasons.

The abundance of individuals willing to do childcare work (a contributing factor being the lack of formal education training required to do so) pushes down your negotiating bargaining power even further.

If you feel that you can contribute something of value that the other employees can’t, then I say go for it!

“Sell” your talents and unique skill set. 

Can I Negotiate for Things Other Than Money?

It’s worth a try!

If a school really wants to hire you but teacher salary negotiations are frowned upon or not the norm, consider these options:

  • Do you have a preferred teaching level and/or subject? Maybe you can get that desired placement. I’ve always personally wanted to instruct upper elementary students and so have always negotiated to teach those grade levels.
  • Are there extracurricular activities to be in charge of? I was once offered 5K more per year to help with car pool one hour every day after school.
  • Tutoring pays well. Ask about the school’s policies regarding compensation for private tutoring.

Wrapping Up

If you’re anything like me, even the thought of negotiating a salary is an uncomfortable and stressful experience.

I’m kind of thankful that K-12 public schools take the guesswork out of it.

But if you are in a position to negotiate (most likely within the private school sector), have the right mindset and arm yourself with knowledge. 

Doing so gives you the best chance at “winning” the battle of asking for and actually receiving more money.

Happy negotiating!

~Missi 

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