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Teacher pay issue not as rosy as portrayed

February 22, 2004|by Tom Janus

In their recent unpaid political announcement ("Raising our Standards," Feb. 15, 2004), Roxanne Ober and Bernadette Wagner, incumbent Board of Education members seeking re-election, are permitted over 750 words to expand on an issue - recruitment and retention of teachers - for which we other candidates were limited to 100 words. My initial response uses only four words: "The spin stops here."

Let's first take aim at their own description of the "innovative" Teacher Career Ladder: "This new system of compensation takes into account differentiated responsibilities, skill levels, accountability levels, outstanding performance and student outcomes."

Ober and Wagner are no doubt familiar with the "negotiated agreement between the BOE and the Teachers Association Inc." (effective July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2005), since Wagner signed it on Oct. 3, 2003. This document spells out the movement between scale levels of pay and the step increases that accrue with each year of service, regardless of performance, outstanding or otherwise.


In fact, this "new system of compensation" is the same old dance, except that teachers at Eastern Elementary or Antietam Academy (specialized teaching assignments) now get paid $5,000 more per school year. The "unit member" must stay three years at these schools. The last time I looked, there was a turnover of half the teachers from Eastern Elementary.

How do taxpayers get their money back if this three-year commitment is not fulfilled because "unit members" request a transfer or are released for unsatisfactory performance? (By the way, have you ever wondered what constitutes unsatisfactory performance? Having reviewed the BOE-approved teacher evaluation form, I can state unequivocally that it bears no relationship to "student outcomes.")

Ober and Wagner have also twirled the scale levels in the negotiated agreement into "skill levels." Increases in "skill levels" occur when a teacher has achieved higher levels of a college degree or some form of certification process. A major salary prize - $2,000 a year for "good standing" - is obtained upon completing and maintaining "National Board Professional Teaching Standards Certification." Lest we get too excited about this, let's remember that all these increases in pay and scale movement are also being paid for in tuition reimbursement of up to $2,400 a year. We taxpayers foot the bill for someone to get credentials to increase their scale level and then pay him or her more once they reach it. In my entire working life, even when I established "outstanding performance" leading to a profitable outcome, no employer ever offered me that kind of fast shuffle.

This brings us to "differentiated responsibilities" and "accountability levels." While the negotiated agreement most certainly covers "Compensation - Leadership Responsibilities," I could find nothing about "accountability levels." Do they refer to the twist of an "Instructional Leader" ("... no school will receive fewer than four instructional leader positions") getting paid up to $750 extra? Or to the gyrations of student achievement specialists (14 more in the proposed budget of 2005) or department chairs, both of whom receive an extra $5,000 per school year?

It would be nice to think that Ober and Wagner have accountability for student outcomes in mind when they write: "The BOE has plans to address the rest of the pay scale in the near future." Only when teacher performance is related to student performance can the community make an "educated" decision about teacher compensation.

Finally, let's mention that twilight dance, retirement. After applying my 27-year salary history in the for-profit sector to the retirement benefits calculations for school system retirees, I discover that I not only get a smaller monthly benefit from my private employer, but I also do not get a yearly cost-of-living increase. That means, after 10 years in retirement, and given a 3 percent inflation rate, the average Washington County school system retiree has 54 percent more real monthly spending capacity than me.

Tom Janus is a Washington County resident and candidate for the Board of Education.

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