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Teacher salaries subject to debate

June 22, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

Washington County school officials are touting new state figures that show the average salary for local teachers has risen compared to other Maryland districts, but teachers say the numbers are being driven by higher pay drawn by the county's most veteran educators.

The county lags behind many other counties - and ranks last in some instances - in the salaries it pays teachers, according to statistics from the Maryland State Teachers Association and the Maryland State Department of Education.

The county ranks low when it comes to salaries for teachers in the early and middle years of service, according to the statistics.

Local teachers and others across the state are given annual, or "step" pay increases for every year of service, according to state officials and teachers.

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Third-year teachers with bachelor's degrees in Washington County are the lowest paid in Maryland, according to figures from the Maryland State Department of Education.

Washington County also is last in the salary it pays to third-year teachers with a master's degree, according to the state Department of Education.

The starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor's degree in Washington County is $25,075, the third lowest in the state. Those teachers do not receive a raise until their third year of service, when their pay is increased to $25,262.

In comparison, Allegany County pays its first-year teachers with bachelor's degrees $24,441, according to the state.

By the third year, an Allegany County teacher with a bachelor's degree is making $26,215, according to the state.

For teachers with 10 years experience, Allegany County outpaces Washington County pay by $2,110 and Frederick County, Md., teachers make $3,638 more.

"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 Ronald L. Bowers.

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

Figures from the state show a teacher with 10 years experience earns $43,218 in Calvert County, while the same teacher in Washington County earns $31,646.

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

Recently, 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 said they hoped the news would help attract more teachers to the county.

But teachers say the average is being driven up by the large number of teachers who are at the upper end of the scale.

Of the county's 1,200 teachers, 48 percent 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, school board vice president, would not discuss salaries, other than to say that the teachers association has helped negotiate increases over the years.

School board member Andrew R. Humphreys said the school system knows salaries are low, and raising them is a priority. He blamed the low pay on mandatory budget cuts.

Bowers said the problem is not funding, but that the school system does not pay health insurance for teachers after they retire, which makes quitting unattractive.

Teachers can retire under two programs. Under an old program that is being phased out, teachers can retire at age 60 or after 30 years of service, whichever comes first.

Under the new plan, teachers must be 62 or have 30 years of service.

Unless retired teachers pay for it, they do not receive health insurance until Medicare kicks in at age 65, school officials said.

If the school board provided insurance and bonuses to make retirement attractive, the district could spread money from the vacated positions to other parts of the scale, he said.

Byers said she understands the economic advantages of senior teachers leaving the system, but said the community also needs to realize how important those people are to quality education in the county.

The school board and the teachers association are negotiating salary increases for teachers. The board has allowed for a 3 percent increase over money budgeted for teacher salaries in the current budget. But there is disagreement over how the money should be distributed, Chirgott said.

State figures show that the average salary for guidance counselors in the county is $36,298. That average salary is lower than the average pay for teachers because most counselors have been in the system fewer years, Chirgott said.

Counselors are on the same pay scale as teachers.

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