Grasmick plan offers incentives State superintendent proposes package to recruit, keep teachers

'Issue needs attention'

A $5,000 signing bonus for top graduates part of $45 million proposal

October 28, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Faced with staggering teacher shortages in the next decade, Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick proposed yesterday a fistful of incentives, including a $500 a year tax credit, to attract new teachers and retain those in the state's classrooms.

The Maryland State Board of Education gave its blessing to the $45 million package, which calls for a $5,000 signing bonus for graduates in the top 10 percent of their classes who agree to teach three years in the state, a $1,000 stipend for experienced teachers in high-risk schools, and tuition tax credits for graduate-level courses teachers need to maintain their certification.

The board also hailed a new reading partnership between the state education department, the Johns Hopkins University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute designed to apply the latest brain research to teaching and learning.

The next step in the state's efforts to improve reading instruction, the partnership trumped the final report of the statewide reading task force, which ran into criticism last summer and was presented quietly yesterday.

Grasmick was enthusiastic and realistic about the incentive package, which she has alluded to over the past few months. The package includes such nonmonetary provisions as increasing eligibility for tenure by an additional year and establishing a mentoring program for new teachers.

"I am not politically naive. I know some of these things will never see the light of day," Grasmick said, looking ahead to the package's prospects in the state legislature next year. "But this issue needs attention. It's serious, it's real and it's coming upon us."

Last year, Maryland public schools hired 5,596 new teachers. By September 2001, the state's schools will need 11,000 new teachers, and Maryland's college and universities will graduate only about 2,500, as they did this year.

Increasing enrollments coupled with an unprecedented number of teachers reaching retirement age are creating the shortage, Grasmick said. This year, 4,500 teachers will become eligible to retire; that number will grow to 6,100 by 2003.

"This full package gives the General Assembly and the governor the opportunity to make decisions," she said. "If it generates discussion, then it has served an important political purpose."

The superintendent conceded that the $500 tax credit for all teachers would be the hardest item to sell in Annapolis. The credit is projected to cost the state up to $25 million annually.

"I think this is a wonderful package," said former board president Rose LaPlaca. "I think we need to get on the bandwagon."

Board members considered raising the tax credit to $1,000 a year, but member Morris Jones said it should be left at $500 because "that's likely to be as much as the legislature will swallow."

Karl Pence, president of Maryland State Teachers Association, said he was happy to see Grasmick and the board paying attention "to an impending problem." But, he said, there might be some unintended, negative consequences to some of the proposals.

For instance, giving teachers a tax credit might lead local districts to flatten salaries.

In announcing the reading partnership, to be known as The Reading Institute, Grasmick seemed to shift her focus beyond the statewide task force she created 18 months ago to study reading and make recommendations for improving instruction.

"The purpose [of the task force report] is to serve as a set of guiding principles to talk about issues that need to be discussed," Grasmick told the board. She said the department had not decided how widely it would disseminate the final report.

After review, and criticism, by experts from around the country, the report was revised to put more emphasis on phonics and on early intervention and prevention strategies for low-achieving readers.

Grasmick said a concern is that most brain research is not "teacher-friendly , and it never makes its way into the classroom."

That will be the focus of the newly formed partnership with Hopkins' graduate division of education and Kennedy Krieger, which provides services to severely disabled children and their families, and operates a school for children with disabilities.

"We have a real hands-on approach," said Michael Bender, vice president of education at Kennedy Krieger. That idea will pervade The Reading Institute, said Bender and Ralph Fessler of Hopkins.

"Where the rubber meets the road is the teacher and the child in the classroom," Fessler said. "The focus of all of the institute's activities will be on that relationship."

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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