Paying teachers

July 06, 2005

FOR THE FIRST time in three years, Baltimore city teachers will be getting a raise beyond the automatic increases that are tied to length of service. The new salary contract is another welcome sign that the school system is coming out of its deficit doldrums and another essential step to improve prospects for city schoolchildren.

In the last couple of years, as the system has struggled to deal with a $58 million deficit and a cash-flow crisis, top school officials tried to impose most cuts at central headquarters. But it's difficult to know how many teachers accelerated their retirement or sought greener or more stable pastures. Looking ahead, however, the federal No Child Left Behind act's requirement of a highly qualified teacher in every classroom and the need to turn around schools that are failing state standards make it doubly important for Baltimore's school system to retain and recruit good instructors.

Under the proposed two-year contract, teachers and non-instructional aides will receive an immediate 2 percent raise, with an additional 1 percent increase next January. In July 2006, salaries would increase by 5 percent. Because the teachers' contract sets the pace for other unions, the same percentage increases will also apply eventually to other school-based employees such as cafeteria workers and security police. Assuming teachers ratify the contract, the new raises are expected to help Baltimore stay competitive with the surrounding counties.

The entire labor package is likely to cost $60 million over two years, a sum that's manageable because an infusion of Thornton money is helping the school system put - and keep - its fiscal house in order. School officials are right to view the raises as a critical investment in quality instruction and an especially important signal to current and future teachers that they are valued.

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