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In reply to the teacher salary story.....

February 13, 2005|by Claude H. Sasse

To the Editor :

Nineteenth century historian, Thomas Carlyle, described the press as the Fourth Estate. He considered the gallery of reporters housed in the English Parliament as more important than the members of the other Three Estates of the time priests, aristocrats, and commons. He viewed the press as a defender of public interests. Most importantly, Carlyle recognized that the newspaper reporter wielded immense power because the reporter had "a tongue" others would listen to.

On January 9, 2005, as a wielder of power, the Herald-Mail published the "as-promised" (Thompson, January 9, 2005) salaries of Washington County's Public School teachers and administrators. In her column, Liz Thompson, City Editor, noted the original criterion of $60,000 had to be changed because "there were too many people making $60,000 or more to list them all." As a result, the salaries of 16 teachers and 84 administrators appeared in separate tables, column style, as a part of the salary expose'. But what lacked in reporter Scott Butki's three featured stories were answers to journalism's time honored principles: Who? What? When? Where? and How? Especially notable to WCTA leadership were omissions of teacher duties, length of the workday and work year, credentials, expertise, and education requirements.

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On January 11, 2005, "reader feedback" (Thompson, November 14, 2004) began not as letters to the editor or opinion editorials, but as anonymous called-in opinions to "Mail Call." One caller admonished, "they will leave their wealth behind just like the common laborer when the Lord calls us home" (January 11). Another declared, "this income is wonderful. That is a wonderful salary (January 13)." A third respondent (January 13) criticized the teacher workload, as well as the teacher calendar: "Let's face it, you work ten months a year, you get a week off at Christmas, a Spring break and all your holidays off. You even get a day off to do report cards with no students."

But within that same four day period, other callers seemed agitated by the clarity and precision of the expose'.

January 12: "I have worked 30 continuous years in education. I am a teacher with a master's degree and I don't make $60,000."

January 12: "Please let me know what school I have to go to to make more than $60,000 a year. I have been teaching nearly 10 years in Washington County and make about half the salary of those listed in Sunday's paper."

January 13: "I am confused about the salaries that were listed in Sunday's paper. My sister-in-law teaches in Washington County for the past 20 years and has a Master's degree and it has taken her within the past year or two to reach the $40,000 level.

Whose wealth? What wonderful salaries? Why do some teachers earn more? How does a teacher advance in the system? What are the negotiated working conditions for a teacher? Inclusion of WCTA leadership in the planning stages for the January 9 expose' may have yielded helpful, more accurate information about teachers. But unexpected telephone calls by reporter Scott Butki left unprepared teachers upset because Butki requested salary information. Uninformed, WCTA leadership suggested teachers not talk to the Herald-Mail reporter, while assuring them that the choice was theirs (Butki, January 9).

"Knowing what you pay for" heads Liz Thompson's January 9 column. But is that headline accurate? Both Butki's three articles and Thompson's column cite 2,400 as the number of full time Washington County Public School employees. Neither the reporter nor the city editor reveals the total number of teachers. For whatever "surprising information" (Thompson, November 14, 2004) may be discovered, only 322 public school employees are recognized, a mere 13.4 percent of staff. More over, instead of discussing "what" the taxpayer pays for, the study offers a myopic view of "how much" 322 public school employees earn the same slant used to portray landfill employees and subsequently city employees (Herald-Mail, January 16).

The assembled data in table form does, however, yield substantive information. Of the 16 teachers' salaries (see table: Teachers' Salaries 2004), 63.5% earned a "base salary" less than $60,000 (i.e., 50,000 to $59,999 a year), the Herald-Mail's original benchmark. Of the 84 administrators' salaries (see table: Administrators salaries BOE 2004), no administrator 0% - earned an annual "base salary" of $50,000 to $59,999. Below, rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent is a breakdown of the 84 administrators' "base" salaries.

$60,000 to $69,999 9 administrators, 10.7%

$70,000 to $79,999 37 administrators, 44%

$80,000 to $89,999 26 administrators, 30.9%

$90,000 to $99,999 10 administrators, 11.9%

$100,000 plus 2 administrators, 2.4%

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