Teacher pay must be competitive Attractiveness of schools and community not enough to lure the best.

March 06, 1997

MOST PEOPLE find it a delight to live in Howard County, whether they prefer the convenience of suburban settings such as Laurel, Elkridge and Columbia or make their homes in more rural surroundings. With one of the higher average income levels in Maryland, Howard's school-age population doesn't suffer the socio-economic problems found in urban settings.

That makes it easier for teachers to do their jobs. But it also means expectations for them are higher. The pressure is on Howard teachers to consistently produce students who achieve at some of the highest levels. They have done that -- a tribute to their professionalism and commitment to quality teaching.

Such teachers should not be taken for granted. Other school systems would like to have them, and would pay for the privilege.

That's why it is good to hear County Executive Charles I. Ecker acknowledge the importance of keeping teacher salaries competitive with nearby school systems. Trying to handle a revenue shortfall, Mr. Ecker insisted that school funding for the current academic year be limited to the state's minimum requirements. Teacher raises averaged only about 1 percent. More than one-third of the teachers, experienced veterans no longer eligible for step increases, ended up with no raise at all.

Howard salaries, averaging $41,000, are still some of the best for educators in Maryland. But a beginning teacher will only make $26,915. She can do better in Montgomery County and several others that offer similarly lucrative conditions. While Mr. Ecker must put all school spending in the context of the county's overall needs and ability to pay for them, he must consider higher teacher salaries in making budget decisions that will determine Howard's future attractiveness to families.

Budget requests from all Howard departments are coming in higher than what the county had available to spend last year. People want new athletic fields. They want something done about the traffic at Snowden River Parkway and Route 175. Other county employees want raises.

Mr. Ecker, whose new budget is due next month, must make decisions in the best interest of the whole county. Maintaining the quality of schools certainly fits that criteria.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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