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Quick Comment: The teacher pay issue

June 18, 1998

After winning a substantial increase in funding from the Washington County Commissioners, school officials are now trying to agree on a new contract with the county's schoolteachers before the current one expires June 30. The school system has planned for a 3 percent increase in the teacher pay scale, but there's no agreement yet as to how that cash should be distributed.

Some have expressed the fear that without more improvements for teachers with a number of years of experience, Washington County will become a training ground where educators gain experience, only to be hired away later by neighboring counties with higher pay scales.

Washington County has many teachers with at least 20 years worth of experience, and the decision to give those at that level a 2 percent step increase last year was a factor in pushing the average teacher pay here from 20th to 16th highest among the 23 counties and Baltimore City.

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But while that was happening, Washington County's starting teacher pay remained the same - $25,075, or 21st in the state.

As of June 1997, that was $1,000 below Frederick County, Md.'s starting teacher pay, and with the exception of the Forbes Road School District, all areas in Pennsylvania's Franklin and Fulton counties beat Washington County's starting pay by at least $1,000. In Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties, however, starting pay was $2,000 to $3,000 below Washington County's.

In a situation where driving 10 miles one way or another may mean a substantial difference in income, the argument goes, the best and brightest will apply first to those jurisdictions that pay the most. That theory, if true, would leave those areas which pay less with less-able starting teachers.

Another argument to consider: Since all these statistics are reported on a statewide basis, a county with a pay scale that's lower than the average might be seen as not valuing education.

We believe that most teachers in the system are dedicated professionals who must put across a more demanding curriculum than was taught 20 years ago, even while dealing with students who have emotional and physical problems that weren't present in the classrooms of the 1960s.

That said, however, there is only so much money to go around. How should the Washington County school system divide up its available dollars? Should it use the cash to lure beginning teachers, or to reward its veterans for staying on? Or - and this is unlikely - is there some compromise that will satisfy everyone?

Tell us how you feel, in 100 words or less and send your replies to Quick Comment, c/o Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail. P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md., 21741. Letters can also be faxed to (301) 714-0245, or e-mailed to opinion@herald-mail. com.

Please have your replies in by Monday, June 22 and we'll try to publish them on Wednesday, June 24.

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