Education

Teacher Pay? It’s Time to Reform the Underlying Structure and Driving Factors

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I agree with Governor LePage. Teachers should be paid what they are worth. More broadly, everyone should be paid what they are worth, including the Governor. He makes less than teachers at the top of the scale in my town, and I’m pretty sure his work schedule is well beyond the 182.5 workdays per year their salaries are based on. Not to mention that his ‘classroom environment’ is far more unruly and undisciplined than theirs, and his ‘students’ far more incorrigible.

The title assertion of his recent column is wide open to interpretation, however, and mine differs significantly from his. For those unfamiliar with teachers contracts, I strongly recommend you look one up and read it; your eyes will be opened. If you don’t have access to one, this link will take you to the current contract for Brunswick teachers: http://www.brunswick.k12.me.us/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Teacher-Contract-Sept-1-16-Aug-31-19.pdf Be sure to read all the way through to the salary scales. (As a side note, the absence of a specific identifier for the bill the Governor alludes to makes it difficult to comment on that proposal.)

Given the structure of teachers contracts with which I’m familiar, comparisons with other states is not relevant without taking average age into account. And one could argue that teachers don’t “settle,” they enjoy extremely high job security, cadillac benefits with minimal personal cost, and guaranteed in advance, preprogrammed salary increases per contract. Not many, in fact very few, can say the same thing, and that’s without considering the hours and weeks worked. Teachers are treated as semi-deities by the vast majority of the public, especially at budget time, and are never called to account for school and student achievement. Union protection, political influence, and lobbying dollars are as powerful as it gets in Augusta. Teacher jobs come with a teflon suit, at least as far as public policy is concerned.

Of highest concern in my view is that the worst are paid the same as the best; union contracts homogenizes teachers into faceless ‘members’ of a certain age and education level. This is unfair to the worst; unfair to the best; unfair to students; and unfair to taxpayers. Those who accept these conditions, and union governance, stretch the meaning of “professionals” to its limits.

A more critical view is that some teachers are overpaid (or should be gone!); some are underpaid; and most are paid appropriately. The question of a statewide contract is a separate matter, but until coherent performance measures and a merit salary component are adopted, the existing compensation structure is a poor foundation from which to move forward.

If I take the Governor’s characterization at face value, he believes that all teachers are underpaid, and that giving them a substantial increase will improve their performance in the classrooms, and thereby the education of their students. This ignores the fact, at least in my town, that teachers annually get salary increases in the 5% range, and taxpayers cover 85% of the cost of their health coverage. Even worse, it suggests that teachers’ dedication, effort, and effectiveness are proportional to their pay. Such a premise should be an embarrassment to anyone who wants to be considered a professional, and I would expect a truly dedicated teacher to be insulted by the very thought!

Would the Governor be a better State Executive if we raised his salary by 25%? I’m old fashioned enough to believe that he is doing the very best he can at his job because he takes it very seriously, though I have no problem thinking he should be paid significantly more for his efforts.

My greatest concern, however, is this. If the Union is somehow convinced to come to the table for a statewide contract, you can bet they will have their way with the Governor’s administration – “lifting all boats” whether seaworthy or not.

The end result will be the aggregated sum of all teacher/union perks from contracts in the individual school administrative units, the highest salaries cherry-picked from those same contracts, and the elimination of those elements that the unions have fought unsuccessfully. The union will come to the game with a pile of chips that dwarfs the Governor’s. And they will run the table. They may not even need all the aces up their sleeves.

Union political influence, and funds available from state and national offices for massive PR campaigns, are a matter of record. Sympathetic masses, led by the mommy mafia, toddlers in hand, will rally to support the unions and teachers, carrying signs that it’s all “For The Children.” Any who oppose the union position will be demonized. “Why do you hate our schools and teachers?” And “what do you have against my children?” will be the dominant themes.

Those with experience in how this usually works locally should be familiar with these tactics.

In conclusion, while the Governor’s intentions are no doubt sincere, his proposal as stated is vulnerable to an outcome that is worse, not better. I wish he would reconsider it before pressing forward into a very large trap.

About Pem Schaeffer

Pem Schaeffer is a retired engineer who progressed to a position in business development leadership in defense electronics. He lives and writes in Brunswick, Maine, and blogs at: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at pemster4062@yahoo.com or you can always buy him lunch at an MHPC luncheon. He's easy that way, and he'll still respect you if you do.

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