An early history of teacher pay systems in Ohio

Ohio's recently passed SB5 would make Ohio the first state in the country to mandate performance pay for educators. The law wipes out the step-and-lane salary schedule that has been the basis of teacher pay since the early part of the 20th century and requires districts to adopt new merit-based pay systems. This is potentially a very big deal but the law will likely be challenged by a referendum in November and the courts will surely be drawn into this as school districts attempt to implement the changes. It will likely be months if not years before the law will actually change how teachers are remunerated in the Buckeye State.

It is interesting to go back in time and see how the current step-and-lane system emerged. My friend and long-time Daytonian Nancy Diggs wrote a book in 1997 on the life of Evangeline Lindsley called My Century: An Outspoken Memoir. Lindsley was one of Dayton's truly outstanding 20th century educators and was recognized as one of city's Ten Top Women in 1981. Lindsley also served as president of the Classroom Teachers Association in Dayton, and was elected as only the second member of the Executive Committee of the Ohio Education Association in the 1930s. She lived to be over 100.

In My Century Lindsley shared how the single-salary schedule came to be in Dayton during the Great Depression:

It was in the early ???30s that I found out that there was quite a difference in the pay between men and women teachers. I was asked to fill in to take tickets at one of the football games. It was in the evening, after 6:00, and the man on the gate who worked with me got paid, and I didn't???

Later on when I became president of the Classroom Teachers Association, I brought up that pay discrepancy and soon we had a single-salary schedule.

As I said, back in the early ???30s, we were not getting all our pay. There wasn't any money to pay us, so they were issuing scrip, which was a kind of I.O.U. When you took the scrip to the store it was discounted, and then the (School) Board redeemed it when they got the money. If you got a $50 scrip and they gave you $25, that's all you had.

We finally decided that we needed to do something about that, so when I was put in as president of the Classroom Teachers, I said we needed legal advice, because the Board wasn't getting any money from the state. It was terrible, it was a bad situation. It was in the midst of the Depression, you understand, but nevertheless they expected us to keep teaching. One of the school board members of the city of Dayton, a bachelor, by the way, even proposed that the teachers teach without pay for love of teaching. I don't know what he thought we'd live on.

We hired Estabrook, Finn and McKee,* one of the most prestigious law firms in the city. With their advice we secured the services of Don Thomas, who was a member of the state legislature. Later he was a judge of Common Pleas Court in Dayton. With his help we went into the records at the Montgomery County Courthouse and we found millionaires on the tax duplicate who hadn't paid taxes to the County for twelve years that had never been reported as delinquent. We found that the treasurer and the auditor were not collecting money that could be collected.

The amount of delinquency was horrendous, so we went to the state legislature. With the help of Don Thomas we introduced a bill that provided that people who were delinquent in their tax payments could arrange with their county treasurer to pay their back taxes on the installment plan without penalty. This law was passed and is still on the books today???

We did ever so many things like that, all with the legal advice of Estabrook, Finn and McKee. I'm very proud of that record. That's the kind of problem we had to deal with professionally???

I also found out that there was a differential between elementary and high school pay, and I felt that was ridiculous, because I couldn't see any difference between the importance of high school teaching or the required professionalism of teachers of first or second grades from ninth or tenth or eleventh or twelfth. So we fought that through the Classroom Teachers, and we won it. We established the principle of a single-salary schedule. That's one of the things of which I am very proud, because I really did fight that through. I wasn't very popular with the high school teachers, though. They liked to think they were better than the elementary teachers.???

Times change, but it is important to understand how the fights of one era still resonate today. This is especially true for those of us who are advocating for changes to systems that have served teachers well for decades.

*Note: Estabrook, Finn and McKee was founded by Samuel Finn ??? Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr.'s grandfather.

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