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Panhandle counties need a teacher salary solution

January 16, 2007

It's good, but not good enough.

That's what many West Virginia teachers are saying in regard to Gov. Joe Manchin's proposal to up teacher salaries by 2.5 percent and raise all teachers' pay to at least $30,000 per year.

Even if the raise were 5 percent, that won't help school systems in the Eastern Panhandle compete with systems right across their borders. If the state doesn't act, local systems might have to look at ways to provide additional pay on their own.

As just one example of what the Panhandle systems are up against, consider that in November, the Chambersburg (Pa.) School Board approved a four-year contact that increases teacher salaries 4.5 percent in each of the first three years.

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A fourth year will boost Chambersburg teachers' salaries 4 to 4.5 percent, based on a state-set formula tied to inflation.

Assuming that the fourth-year increase is only 4 percent, that would still be a 17.5 percent pay boost in four years.

And, if anyone is tempted to believe that this is greed on the part of teachers, look at how the cost of living, particularly the cost of housing, has increased recently.

Last month, Jefferson County (W.Va.) residents flooded the County Assessor's Office with phone calls after many received letters notifying them of dramatic increases in assessments.

Some residents said their tax bills would increase by hundreds of dollars and would double in some cases.

Man,chin's proposed 2.5 percent hike would add $581 to $1,068 to annual paychecks, depending on where a given teacher is on the salary scale.

How could teacher salaries be supplemented? In recent years, North Carolina, which had not previously had a state lottery, began one and pledged all the funds to education. A separate West Virginia lottery game, with proceeds going only to education, might partially close the gap.

Other school systems, in Houston and Denver, have turned to a pay system that ties a teacher's additional income to the progress made by his or her students. Historically, teachers have been suspicious of such proposals, because whether students are ready to learn before they come to school is beyond an educator's control.

Another possibility: The Alamo Heights School District in Texas has its own foundation, which now has assets of more than $1 million. By using the interest from those funds and by running an annual giving campaign, the foundation was able to give $250,000 to supplement teacher salaries during the 2005-2006 school year.

Not all of these ideas might be possible under West Virginia law, but if the governor and state lawmakers can't find a way to supplement local teacher salaries, local officials might have to try something new.

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