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Teachers, officials say salary figures misleading

June 15, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

Washington County's average salary for teachers may be up, but the county lags behind many others - and ranks last in many instances - in the raises it gives to teachers, according to state officials and teachers.

Many of the instances in which the county ranks last in teacher raises are in the beginning and middle years of service, according to statistics from the Maryland State Teachers Association and the Maryland State Department of Education.

Washington County's starting teacher salary of $25,075 is third lowest in the state. Starting teachers do not receive a pay increase until their third year of service, when their pay is increased to $25,262.

By that time, Allegany County is paying its third-year teachers $26,215, according to the state Department of Education.

Within 10 years, Allegany County's teaching salary has outpaced Washington County's by $2,110 and Frederick County has outdistanced it by $3,638.

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"This is not a good trend," said Maxine Woodland, manager for research and collective bargaining for the Maryland State Teachers Association.

"If we have glaring deficiencies in our salary scale, then we need to deal with that," said Washington County Commissioner Ron Bowers.

Ann Palmer, a Salem Avenue Elementary teacher who has worked in the district for 17 years, said she has friends in Calvert County who have less experience than she does but are paid $10,000 more.

"That's very frustrating. In Washington County, we're just getting further and further behind," Palmer said.

Last week, the Maryland Department of Education released figures showing Washington County's average teaching salary increased from $37,341 to $38,237 this year, ranking it 16th in the state.

School officials praised the news, hoping it will attract more teachers.

Teachers say the average is being driven up by the large number of senior teachers at the upper end of the scale, where pay increases are better. Of the county's 1,200 teachers, 48 percent of them have been in the system 20 years or more, said Phillip Ray, director of human resources.

"It makes us look like we're a better-paid system than we are," said Sharon Chirgott, president of the Washington County Teachers Association.

John Hull, acting human resources supervisor, agreed the large number of teachers at the high end of the scale "skews that average."

B. Marie Byers, vice president of the Board of Education, would not discuss salaries, other than to say that the teachers association has helped negotiate increases over the years.

Board member Andrew R. Humphreys said the school system knows that salaries are low, and raising them is a priority. He blamed the slip in salaries on mandatory budget cuts.

Bowers said the problem is not funding, but that the school system doesn't pay health insurance for teachers after they retire, which makes quitting unattractive. If the Board of Education would provide insurance and bonuses to make retirement attractive, the district could spread money from the vacated positions to other parts of the scale, he said.

The Board of Education and the teachers association are negotiating salary increases for teachers. The board has allowed for a 3 percent increase in the teacher pay scale, but there is disagreement over how the money should be distributed, Chirgott said.

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