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New teachers learn salaries are wrong - update

August 12, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

Seventy-one experienced teachers new to Washington County Public Schools learned Thursday their salaries had been misquoted and actually are lower than they were told.

They will be paid $600 to $6,000 more than their colleagues with the same experience this year, but the extra pay will be eliminated next year. The mistake will cost the school system $238,000 in overage pay this year, Director of Human Resources Ed Lynch said.

According to Lynch, about half of the 71 teachers signed and returned forms Thursday that explained the mistake and acknowledged their pay would be lower next year.

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The forms represent their commitment to continue teaching in the system, Lynch said.

Thursday was the last day of the system's New Teacher Academy. All teachers begin work Thursday, Aug. 18.

Lynch said he discovered the mistake about two or three weeks ago.

"My staff clearly made a mistake. We're accountable in that, myself included," Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said by telephone Thursday.

Teachers who wish to leave the system will not be held to their contracts, Morgan said.

New teachers questioned between orientation sessions Thursday told a reporter they were concerned their job status might be hurt if they were quoted.

Several said they felt frustrated and angry about the error; others called it an innocent mistake.

One new high school teacher said he will lose almost $2,000 in the 2006-07 school year because of the error. He said he was not sure if he would have accepted a position with the system had he known his real salary, and he said he had not returned the form stating his commitment to stay.

"I probably would have taken (the job). It's just the fact they tell you one thing, then do another. I don't feel as though I can trust anyone," the new teacher said after training ended Thursday.

Washington County Teachers Association President Claude Sasse declined comment Thursday by phone.

According to Lynch, some incoming teachers were told their pay-scale level and years of experience were equal. That's not the case since the pay scale was compressed with the 2004-05 contract. At that time, teachers with one to six years of experience were placed on step one. With each passing year, teachers move up a step.

Teachers will be paid according to the scale, like their colleagues, Lynch said, but they also will receive "overage pay," according to the salary level they were quoted.

They will not receive the extra pay next year, Lynch said.

"From a retention point of view, I think we'll lose some of these folks," Lynch said.

Morgan said after discovering the mistake staff spent the last few weeks determining which teachers were affected and whether any teachers hired before this year were brought on board at an incorrect salary level.

According to Morgan and Lynch, school officials worked as quickly as they could to research the problem and inform teachers. Morgan said the system will implement changes in how salaries are conveyed to new employees.

Morgan said she was not sure how teachers who have worked in the system would react to the fact some of their colleagues will be earning more money for the same years of experience.

"We made a commitment to these folks, and we need to honor that. We made a mistake," Morgan said.

Morgan and other school officials have said the area is experiencing a teacher shortage. According to Lynch, 14 teaching vacancies remained Wednesday.

Morgan touted the system's low class sizes, pay incentives for teachers' extra work and student interventions as reasons teachers might choose to come to the county.

She acknowledged the salary scale mistake could detract from recruitment efforts.

"Certainly something like this doesn't help. I understand that, I'm not an idiot," Morgan said.

As for the new high school teacher who learned Thursday his pay would go down about $2,000 next year, he wasn't sure why he had chosen Washington County Public Schools.

"Right now, I'm kind of wondering that myself," he said.

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