Charles teachers address shortage

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The local teachers association presented a laundry list of solutions to the school board last week to fix the teacher shortage problem in Charles County.

The list includes providing scholarships for college students, increasing teacher salaries, offering child care for teachers’ children, providing affordable housing, cutting down teachers’ workloads and paying the full tuition for teachers to get their master’s degrees.

‘‘Money matters. If we could offer a starting salary of $60,000 to beginning teachers and a quick climb to $100,000 for veteran teachers with advanced degrees, we wouldn’t have a teacher shortage here,” Bill Fisher, president of the Education Association of Charles County, told the school board March 11.

The EACC represents 83 percent of the county’s public school teachers.

The starting salary for a teacher is currently $42,245. Teachers already employed with the school system prior to this year also received a four percent cost of living pay increase from the previous year. There is also a 20-step pay scale teachers climb to increase their salary. This scale depends on years in the classroom and education level.

Teacher salaries are negotiated every year between the EACC and school administration.

Teachers can also become National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certified, adding $4,500 to their annual salary.

The current school year began with 25 open full-time teaching positions of the nearly 300 positions that needed to be filled before the first day of school. Currently, there are 10 open full-time and two part-time teaching positions.

Maryland’s colleges and universities produce about 2,500 new teachers a year, but the state needs about 8,000 annually.

Chairman of the Charles County Board of Education Donald M. Wade agreed with Fisher that money does matter, which is why he does not foresee the school board funding any of the proposals.

‘‘We are fighting to keep a budget that is going to give our teachers cost of living [raises],” Wade said during an interview. ‘‘I hear [Fisher] and what he is saying. They are all great, but they all cost money. And that’s the thing; we would like to do those [suggestions] but actually getting the money for it is something else. ... The truth of the matter is we really don’t have funds available for those things right now.”

Besides higher pay, Fisher told the school board that local scholarships for future teachers should be created.

‘‘Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships,” Fisher said raising his voice for emphasis, pitching the idea that the school board dedicate $75,000 in its budget to fully pay for five students, including tuition and room and board, to attend a University of Maryland college and become certified in a shortage area.

‘‘The board of education could pay for four years of college in return for five years of teaching. By the fifth year, the employees are vested in the retirement system, have settled into the county, and are less likely to leave.”

During an interview Fisher said he would like the $75,000 to be dedicated annually and even increased.

Fisher said the reaction he has received thus far from school officials is that they are not sure public funds could be used for teachers’ scholarships.

Fisher also offered a solution so the ‘‘critical shortage areas” would have teachers in Charles County.

Of the 25 open teaching positions at the start of the current school year, 14 were in the math, science and special education subjects — also known as ‘‘critical shortage areas.”

If teachers already in the schools teaching nonshortage area subjects were still paid a percentage of their salaries to go to school full time and become certified to teach math, science or special education, Fisher said the problem could be resolved. He also said the same could be done for those who are not teachers but hold other positions in the schools.

‘‘There are some very talented [school system staff] who might take advantage of a program to allow them to collect a paycheck and benefits while pursuing a full-time course of study to become teachers; they could have this in exchange for a teaching obligation here. The point is, we have people in our system now who have demonstrated abilities and we can encourage them to use these abilities in critical areas.”

Fisher also told the school board which solutions he does not believe will fix the shortage.

‘‘[The] EACC will not support differentiated pay or bonuses for so called ‘shortage areas.’ The job of teaching is equally difficult for all subjects and there is no difference in the workload, level of education required or responsibility based on the subject taught,” Fisher said.

‘‘Bonuses waste money on Band-Aid solutions that will not solve the problem of teacher shortages in critical areas. As long as there are 100 candidates for 200 slots, there will continue to be a revolving door of people chasing the next bonus.”

The school system currently does offer signing bonuses up to $5,000 for the critical shortage areas, with the average bonus being $2,000.

Following all the suggestions, school board member Pamela A. Pedersen asked, ‘‘If we have the same pot of money, which of these are most viable?”

Fisher responded, ‘‘How can I put a dollar amount to anything on that list? ... I think the child care could be one that couldn’t be too expensive”