For many teachers, the road to a master's degree is a long and difficult one.
The bill can run some $20,000. For years, Oak Creek teachers have received a salary increase when they earn a master's, which teachers say helps ease the burden of paying back student loans.
But that traditional increase – about $3,000 – is in jeopardy, as the Oak Creek-Franklin School District faces a financial shortfall.
In addition to master's degrees, teachers earn raises with each year they work. As it stands now, Oak Creek-Franklin does not have enough money to cover both of those salary increases, Superintendent Sara Burmeister said.
Put together, they would cost the district about $704,000, but it has only $380,000 to spend. Administrators and School Board members now must decide how to allocate what money they have.
Teachers have made their feelings known during two recent School Board meetings, including one Monday night, that raises for master’s degrees should stay.
They say it’s important they are able to continue their education because it improves their abilities and directly impacts students.
And it’s about more than money, teachers said. They have also sacrificed their time, with long hours going into already long days.
"We understand there are budget issues," Terry Grogan, West Middle School teacher and chief negotiator for the teacher’s union, told the School Board on Monday.
"I think it's really important, in good faith, to show those (union) members and all of us that you value that education and want to encourage us to continue getting additional education so that we can be better teachers."
Julie Mlagan, a special-education teacher at the high school, said she struggled with her decision to pursue higher education, but went ahead with it expecting the additional compensation to help make up for the money spent.
"It was a difficult decision for me to go back to school," she said. "It was difficult considering not only the cost but the time it would take me away from my family and the time it would take on evenings and weekends to do schoolwork."
She added that many of her coworkers were in a similar position.
"If the salary schedule is not continued," she said, "the morale of my colleagues and myself will be severely affected."
Burmeister says she empathizes with those teachers and hopes the district can come to a solution.
"Some teachers take out student loans with the expectation they would receive additional money," she said. "I totally understand."
The School Board still has a ways to go before making any final decisions. Much is still unknown about how the state budget will impact Oak Creek-Franklin; the final version of the school district budget will be passed in October.