Buffalo-area teacher salaries, which have jumped by about 50 percent in the last five years, will continue to rise by about 8 to 10 percent a year.
That conclusion was reached by a key union official and the head of an organization representing Erie County's school boards.
Recently approved contracts continue a trend that has seen the median, or middle, salary for an Erie County public school teacher increase from $27,485 in the 1984-85 school year to $40,456 in the school year now concluding.
That change represents a 47 percent increase in five years. The national inflation rate for the period was 21.7 percent. The Buffalo inflation rate for 1984-88 was 15.2 percent.
Union officials and administrators agree that the increase resulted from generous state aid for education and general agreement that teachers were underpaid. Now, administrators say, teachers are being compensated quite well. But union officials say teachers still need to catch up after having been underpaid for so long.
Five years ago, teacher salaries in both Erie and Niagara counties were below the state median of $28,213. This year, they were both above the state median of $38,925. The latest pattern, they said, is being established by two teacher contracts already wrapped up this year and by 1990-91 salary increases negotiated earlier in multiyear contracts.
"We're talking about 8 to 10 percent," said Ronald F. Uba, regional director of the New York State United Teachers.
"That seems to be the ballpark figure," added Edward J. Sakowski, executive director of the Erie County Association of School Boards.
Settlement patterns take on special importance this summer because contracts expire in about 25 public school districts in Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming counties.
In Erie County, those include Buffalo, West Seneca, Hamburg, East Aurora, Grand Island, Springville-Griffith Institute, Cleveland Hill, Maryvale, Lake Shore, North Collins and Alden, Uba said.
In Niagara County, contracts expire in North Tonawanda, Newfane and Starpoint.
A trend is already emerging, Uba and Sakowski agreed.
The Niagara Falls schools -- where the median teacher salary is $39,091 -- recently approved a four-year contract with salary increases of 9.5 percent in the first year, 8.5 percent in both the second and third years, and 8 percent in the fourth.
Teachers in the Kenmore-Tonawanda School District, who now receive a median salary of $45,022, early this year approved a three-year pact with yearly salary increases of 7, 9 and 9 percent. Kenmore-Tonawanda officials said that the pay increases would vary according to experience and other factors and that most teachers would receive increases of less than 7, 9 and 9 percent.
Buffalo teachers recently threatened a walkout during negotiations that revolve around a fact finder's recommendation that the teachers receive a 24 percent wage increase over three years.
The highest median teacher's salary in Erie County this year was $46,893 in the Amherst Central School District. Salaries were also above $45,000 in the Sweet Home, West Seneca, Depew and Kenmore-Tonawanda schools, and the median was above $40,000 in 17 of 28 districts in the county. The lowest median salary was $30,657 in Holland.
In Niagara County, the median salary jumped 50.5 percent in the last five years, from $25,927 to $39,025.
Uba said teacher salaries were alarmingly low five years ago, making it difficult to attract and retain good teachers, especially in the fields of mathematics and science.
"There has been a tremendous amount of catching up to do," Uba said. "Teachers, as employees, have been subsidizing education for years and years and years. I'm extremely pleased with our progress, but we still have a long way to go. We have to get 11 percent in some of the places that still need catching up."
Sakowski agreed that teachers were entitled to substantial pay increases but thinks that it is time for a leveling off.
"In my opinion, they've reached that (fair) level," he said. "At some point, we're going to have to face the fact that the money isn't always going to be there, and the percentages are going to have to drop."
Despite their different viewpoints, Uba and Sakowski agree that generous state aid has been a key factor in improving teachers' pay.
State aid to Erie County public schools increased from $295 million in 1983-84 to $478 million in 1988-89. In Niagara County, state aid jumped from $75 million to $121 million.
"The state's economic picture has become very bleak," Sakowski said. "Sheer economics is going to say there's got to be a stop to these large percentage increases."
Buoyed by large aid packages from Albany, teachers in many districts have wrapped up multiyear contracts with substantial annual pay increases.
Sakowski said those packages -- along with the few contracts already approved this year -- make it difficult for school districts to reverse the momentum of large pay increases for teachers.
"I hate to say it," he said, "but it does set a pattern."