As a former teacher and as a teacher educator who has observed classrooms in almost every school system in Maryland, I feel I'm qualified to make the following comments, even though negativity toward Howard County Public School System and its teachers is considered blasphemous by some.
The fact that the Howard County Education Association is holding out for a two-year raise of 4 percent plus a step increase appears greedy, manipulative and rather like blackmail in an election year ("Howard teacher talks at impasse," July 7). The average Howard county educator's salary is $70,000 for 192 days of work. The cost to taxpayers is actually 30 percent higher due to a generous benefit package. School system employees have a defined benefit pension plan, pay only between 13 percent and 15 percent of their health care premiums and get fully reimbursed for college credits.
A 3 percent cost of living adjustment and an additional salary scale step far exceeds what the overwhelming number of taxpayers are receiving this year. People on Social Security, employed by the state or by the U.S. government are not receiving increases even close to what HCEA is demanding.
If salaries and conditions are so reprehensible in this county, would there have been 6,867 applicants for 356 open positions? There is no correlation between teacher salary and positive student outcomes. If there were, Baltimore City would be turning out a lot more scholars. Howard County test scores just might be the highest due to the "raw material" with which the educators are presented. The average Howard County student comes from parents who value education and who have provided a steady diet of enrichment activities and even travel experiences. This raw material has been nurtured, had its self-esteem built, and been told that the future is limitless.
The children who enter Howard County schools without this affluent and well supported background are non-ceremoniously referred to as the Free And Reduced Meals (FARM) kids. Unfortunately, they are students with whom our school system is not excelling, and they are not closing the achievement gap. Howard has only 19 percent of kids receiving the FARM designation, compared to 84 percent in Baltimore City and 34 percent in Montgomery County. These students are unfortunately concentrated in a limited number of schools due to housing patterns in the county.
Across the board salary increases for all teachers will not improve the achievement level of FARM students. I'd sooner my tax dollars were concentrated on reducing school overcrowding and providing additional resources to programs for the FARM students rather than teacher salaries. Given that only 28 percent of county residents have children who attend Howard County public schools — and 61 percent of our property tax dollars go to education — others may agree.
Susan Garber, Laurel
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