ANNAPOLIS – Teachers and principals should have a new pay system and their pensions should be reformed, an education commission recommended Wednesday.
The Governor’s Commission on Quality Education in Maryland released 30 suggestions it says would improve academic achievement in Maryland schools. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. promised results from the commission’s work.
“Bottom line, this is a roadmap,” he said. “You will see tangible results from this.”
But the state teachers’ union and some commission members weren’t so enthusiastic.
Patricia A. Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said, ‘This is a good recitation of challenges, but it falls short when it comes to effective solutions.”
And, State Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, a commissioner appointed by the senate president, indicated that politics had found its way into the process.
“I was somewhat concerned that we were not allowed to talk to the press,” Currie said. “I thought if we were looking at education accountability, the public definitely had a right to know.”
Currie is a Democrat; Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the commission’s chairman, are Republicans.
Currie said he wasn’t invited to the report’s presentation and as of late Wednesday his office had not received a copy.
“I don’t know what it was about. I really don’t,” Currie said.
Regan Hopper of the lieutenant governor’s office declined to respond to Currie’s remarks, but said every commission member had been contacted about the presentation.
Two of the commission’s most important recommendations are reforming the pension and pay systems, said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools and ex officio commissioner.
The commission recommended that the current method of determining teacher salaries — known as the teachers’ uniform salary schedule — be phased out and that teachers be paid under a state-developed compensation plan. Such a plan would pay teachers based on their expertise, effectiveness and where they teach.
Foerster said the plan seems to be a merit pay system, which the teachers’ union opposes.
“This would be a very divisive situation, essentially saying one teacher, and subject matter, is more important than another,” Foerster said.
Grasmick said pension plan reform is “an identified need in every school system.” Unless the state can provide competitive retirement plans that teachers can take with them if they change jobs or careers, they may not want to be teachers, at least not in Maryland, she said.
Foerster agreed the teachers’ pension plan should be reformed. She said teachers can go to other states, such as Pennsylvania, and retire with up to 75 percent of their salary. “In Maryland, we’re lucky to get 38 percent, making us the worst in the country,” Foerster said.
Jo Ann T. Bell, state board of education member, said the pension recommendation was important to the success of Maryland education.
“It will be hard to meet the other recommendations without keeping the quality teachers” by offering them better pension plans, Bell said.
In presenting the report to Ehrlich, educators, lawmakers and students at the State House, Steele said the commission had “tried to look at education through the eyes of children.”
Ehrlich called particular attention to commission recommendations dealing with parental, nonprofit and private sector involvement in public education. Steele also focused on parental involvement in his comments at the presentation.
Steele said the state has provided $1 billion in new education funding since 2003 as a result of the Thornton Commission.
That commission’s 2002 report led to a law requiring school funding to increase by $1 billion per year over six years, according to a report from the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.
Ehrlich said the Steele Commission was focused on deciding how Thornton funds would be spent. “Not if, but how, those dollars are going to be spent.” He added: “The philosophical debate concerning [education] funding is over. It’s the right thing to do. We’re going to spend the money.”
With the release of the final report, the commission’s work was done. Since the commission’s creation in September 2004 by executive order, Steele has traveled to 38 schools in all 24 school districts in the state. Robert Kemmery, executive director of the commission said the report’s next step will be for the governor and his policy team to create a timeline and choose which recommendations to act on first.