School board candidates address teacher retention

February 01, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

Editor's Note: This is the first of a four-part series in which the 15 candidates running for the Washington County Board of Education talk about education-related issues. Next Sunday: In a worst-case scenario, do you cut staff or programs?

Most of the 15 candidates running for the Washington County Board of Education say that the board needs to ensure that teacher salaries are competitive in order to attract more teachers to the county.

The school system also needs to continue to provide more support services for teachers, the candidates for four seats said in a phone survey this week.

The primary election will be March 2, with eight of the candidates advancing to the Nov. 2 general election.

Each candidate was asked this question: "Given that teaching is a competitive market, what does the Board of Education need to do to attract and retain teachers?"


"We need to give them the materials they need to achieve excellence with the education and an environment that is supportive," Elizabeth Lay said.

While she thinks that salaries need to be competitive, she doesn't think teachers become teachers for the salary, but because they want to help children.

"We must support that goal," said Lay, 45, of Clear Spring.

Richard Bruce Grassby, of Hagerstown, said he does not know how teachers' salaries for the system compare to those of other local districts, but he thinks Washington County needs to at least match other systems' salaries.

"You get what you pay for," said Grassby, 68.

Incumbents weigh in

Board President W. Edward Forrest said, "We also need to look at professional development, to make sure teachers feel supported. This would include continuing or expanding mentor programs for teachers."

The school system also needs to ensure teachers have ample opportunities to advance to become administrators, said Forrest, 40, of Hagerstown.

Last year, the Board of Education increased the starting salary for new certified teachers to $35,000, an increase of $2,635 from the previous year.

Forrest said this year, the board needs to proceed with plans to increase the salaries of teachers on the middle and upper tier of the stepladder.

The other incumbents seeking re-election - board Vice President Roxanne R. Ober, Bernadette M. Wagner and W. Princeton Young - made similar remarks about increasing salaries to make sure they are competitive.

"Salaries will always be an issue to compete with surrounding counties and states," said Young, 56, of Hagerstown. "We also need to offer incentives for continuing education, which can result in higher pay."

Wagner, Ober and Young said the employees also need a better pension system since the current one is not adequate.

Wagner, 46, of Hagerstown, said the board also needs to continue to offer professional services for teachers.

Ober, 44, of Hagerstown, said the board needs to address the pay scale for the employees who are at the middle and top end of the pay scale.

"Why we need to do that is we have over 400 teachers with more than 25 years plus, and we need to take that experience and expertise and reward them and hopefully they will become a mentor to other teachers," she said.

Retaining teachers

Barry C. Harbaugh, who said he was an English and history teacher for two years in North Carolina, also supports a possible salary increase to make salaries competitive, but he has a suggestion about how to retain teachers.

"One of the biggest things with teachers, and having been in the classroom previously, is control," said Harbaugh, 44, of Clear Spring. "They are not allowed to control anything. If you give teachers the ability to control the classrooms and control the curriculum - basically control their own destiny - without the constant interference from politicians and political interest groups," that would make the system more attractive to teachers.

Not everyone agrees the board should consider increasing salaries.

Instead of simply raising salaries, Tom Janus said, the Board of Education needs to rethink how it allocates salaries, factoring in the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all students to have what the federal law calls "highly qualified" teachers by 2006.

"Teacher pay must be linked to student performance to counteract the current 'one size fits all' compensation scheme," said Janus, 61, of Hagerstown.

Additionally, the board should amend teacher certification criteria to enable retirees with some educational teaching experience, such as himself, to return to the classroom, he said. Janus previously taught at Hagerstown Community College.

"Currently, Maryland teachers can pass the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) bar by accumulating points based on college grades, on whether they gave a speech at a convention or whether they taught a college course. What these have to do with being an effective K-12 teacher escapes me," Janus said.

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