Shortchanging teachers has long-term consequences

April 07, 2008|By Iver Mindel

Baltimore County teachers recently completed a one-day "work to rule" response to the fact that the county is not increasing their salaries to keep pace with inflation. County officials are trying to control spending. They are confronted with a familiar balancing act: how to attract and retain quality teachers, maintain fiscal responsibility and avoid significantly raising taxes in a time of economic uncertainty.

Their resistance to raising salaries is therefore understandable. But we have to keep in mind the long-term consequences of such decisions.

My youngest son is completing his master's degree this spring in secondary education, and is working at a Baltimore County high school as a long-term substitute. His supervisors are very impressed with his performance and seem eager to hire him full time next year when he has his advanced degree and is fully qualified. His mother and I are also career Baltimore County Board of Education employees, and would not mind seeing our son have a career in the county.

My son, however, is exploring all of his options and has discovered that the starting salary for educators in Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties is many thousands of dollars higher.

More important, this discrepancy increases with experience on the job. He notes that a teacher with 25 years' experience in those counties, depending on advanced degree work, can make as much as $15,000 to $25,000 more per year than a Baltimore County teacher for doing essentially the same job.

Moreover, the salary gap is widening. Howard and Montgomery counties have given a significant cost-of-living increase to their teachers for next year, and are committed to doing so for the year after next.

In a recent job interview in another county, it was made clear to my son that a starting salary for a teacher with an advanced degree would be considerably higher in that county than in Baltimore County.

On the other hand, the basic cost of living in adjacent Maryland counties is not significantly different; food, gas, clothing and utility costs remain about the same. Housing is an exception, but most Baltimore or Washington metropolitan counties have some areas where housing is quite pricey and other areas where more affordable housing is available.

As my son makes his career decision, he is not alone. Hundreds of the best and brightest prospective teachers, counselors and administrators have access to the same salary information, as the various counties in the area are competing for their services.

The officials of Baltimore County should be commended for trying to rein in costs, but they must remain cognizant of the long-term effects of their financial decisions. After all, one of the primary selling points of Baltimore County as a place to live and raise a family is the quality of its schools.

I believe the old expression is: "You get what you pay for."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Iver Mindel was a math teacher in Baltimore County for 25 years, the last 18 of them at Pikesville High School.

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