ANNAPOLIS- Most witnesses praised a bill to raise public school teacher salaries by 10 percent over two years at a legislative hearing Thursday, but a few critics slipped in.
Opponents say the money will be distributed unfairly and that it will be too difficult for some counties to fund their share of the deal.
The latter is what John O’Connell, superintendent of Allegany County schools, said will happen in his district. While he supported the bill, he said the county needs more help.
Allegany has the lowest teacher salaries in Maryland. It is the second poorest county in the state, but its students showed the second highest improvement rate on state assessment exams, O’Connell said.
The bill, pitched by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, would actually widen the gap between Allegany and other counties because it is based on percentages, O’Connell said.
“The people who were ahead of us are going to be more ahead of us. A flat rate would work better,” he told the House Ways and Means Committee.
Another critic countered contention that the salary boost will help alleviate the teacher shortage by drawing more people into the profession and keeping qualified educators from leaving the state for better-paying jobs.
That’s not necessarily true, said Cathy Brennan, spokeswoman for the New Maryland Education Coalition.
“It’s certainly not going to attract teachers when you have states like New York, Massachusetts, and California offering signing bonuses up to $20,000,” she said.
Maryland offers a $1,000 signing bonus for new teachers who graduated in the top 10 percent of their class, but new legislation in the House of Delegates would increase that to $3,000.
Brennan also criticized the bill because raises are not linked to better performance and they might encourage teacher migration to higher-paying schools.
“Districts with the greatest number of senior teachers are the biggest gainers under the bill, as are districts that can offer higher salaries,” she said, “These districts – which suffer the least from the current teacher shortage – may be able to attract best teachers from less affluent Maryland jurisdictions.”
Maryland schools will need to hire 11,000 teachers by 2001, but state colleges graduate only about 2,500 education majors a year – and about half of those leave the state.
Maryland’s average teacher salary ranks 14th among the states now, and in 1993 it was ranked eighth. Pennsylvania, which produces more teachers than it needs, is ranked fourth.
The legislation is backed by 36 percent of the General Assembly, and many county school superintendents. It has the support of Speaker of the House Casper Taylor, D-Allegany, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, as well as the teachers’ unions.
Under the proposal, dubbed the “Governor’s Challenge,” counties that provide a 4 percent pay increase for teachers would get an additional 1 percent from the state each year.
Counties with decreasing enrollment or below-average wealth, considered “distressed jurisdictions,” would get enhancement funding.
The proposal would cost $116 million over five years, according to the legislation.
In a supplemental budget released Monday the governor allocated $35 million from the tobacco settlement for teacher salary increases.
State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick told the committee Thursday why she supports the bill.
The state needs a “multifaceted approach” to solving the teacher shortage, she said.
Maryland State Teachers Association President Karl Pence is, predictably, a proponent: “I think it’s a good way for the state to encourage this positive [initiative] without compensating local authority.”