Updated: Mar 29
Third Future Schools will begin operating Prescott K-8 Academy in Baton Rouge in July. The average salary will be over $83,000 and the average starting salary will be $78,000. The average salary is approximately $25,000 more than the average salary among the schools in Baton Rouge, and, because our salary plan is not tied to years of experience (except for the three-year mark), even new teachers will start at $78,000 on average. TFS will operate ten schools in seven different cities in three states in the 2023-2024 school year. And in each case, the average salary is at least $8,000 more than schools in the surrounding area. We also provide full dental, vision, and health care for just $50 a month total.
People often ask me how we manage to have such high salaries and still get results. There are several factors, but essentially it comes down to three things:
1. We prioritize instructional salaries. We know that the quality of instruction is one of the most important variables in raising student achievement, so we try to recruit highly effective teachers. We are willing to forego other positions and programs in order to have the most effective teachers teaching our students. And yes, higher salaries attract more effective teachers. That doesn’t mean the value proposition is only about monetary compensation, but it is an important part of almost all employees’ consideration.
Similarly, we have a lot fewer non-instructional positions than most schools, allowing us to spend more money on classroom teachers. Instead of hiring an “equity coordinator,” how about giving your underserved students the highest performing teachers. Equity of highly effective teachers is much more important than someone who is going to think of ways to provide all students with the same program even if those programs are not effective. Save the money from having too many programs and too many coordinators of programs and put them into teacher salaries.
Save the money from having too many programs and too many coordinators of programs and put them into teacher salaries.
As a guide, use 70 to 74% of total revenue for salary and benefits for all school personnel. At Prescott, 58% of total revenue will go to teachers; 5% will go to special education teachers and specialists; and 11% will go to administrators and front office support.
2. We minimize the size of the central office. We take approximately 8% from a school’s revenue to run a small central office for a network with seven different authorizers and schools spread across three states. Additionally, authorizers also take between 4 and 6 percent of the school’s PPOR (per pupil operating revenue) for their oversight and administrative “support.” We have more money to pay teachers in Baton Rouge because the Department of Education in Louisiana is the authorizer, and they only ask for 2% of PPOR for administrative oversight. They don’t have a large bureaucracy and allow the school to operate with great autonomy.
Schools should only have to spend 10% of total revenue “supporting” central office personnel and functions. Larger districts with economies of scale could easily drop this percentage to under 8. Schools will then have to spend around 10% on the key services such as transportation, custodial services, utilities, and building and grounds maintenance. The rest, after 74% to salaries and benefits, goes to instructional supplies and materials.
3. We work systemically. Third Future Schools operates its schools using eight fundamentally different principles of education. I have addressed this in other blog posts, so I will not write much here. Suffice it to say, our operations allow us to work more efficiently and to implement our priorities with fidelity.
As a profession, we are not going to improve public education without raising salaries significantly. Average salaries in Texas and Colorado dollars should be $80,000 by the 2025-2026 school year. Resources matter, and I hope all states will raise the amount of money they give to schools. Still, school and district leaders could do more with the PPOR they have today. They could raise salaries today by prioritizing instructional salaries, eliminating programs and program coordinators of questionable benefit, and by decreasing the size of their central office.