Guest editorial, March 14-16, 2012 | ParkRecord.com

Guest editorial, March 14-16, 2012

Mike Andrews, Ph.D.

The Park Record editorial of March 3rd made me immediately think back to Ronald Reagan’s famous rejoinder to Pres. Carter in their debate "There you go again."

Instead of offering insights into the fiscal problems facing our school district, the Record chose to scapegoat the teachers using language that is typical of our current political environment "strident," "a shadow over morale," "reluctant to compromise," "a tin ear," "automatic raises." I found the editorial to reflect a poor understanding of the nature of teacher compensation and guilty of offering the simplistic solution that if teachers would just take less and give up their benefits all would be well in the world.

This coming September will mark the 52nd anniversary of my start as a classroom teacher in 1960. Much has changed in education since then, but one thing has not how we compensate teachers and how we constantly look to them to subsidize education.

The "step and lane" compensation system was then and continues to be a way in which school boards put off the reality of having to pay their teachers an appropriate wage, one which would enable them to have a middle-class lifestyle and one which would enable them to send their children off to the colleges of their choice a salary commensurate with their education, training and most important role.

I was, as teachers today are, well aware that I would never become as rich as a "venture capitalist." I did expect I would be able to make a decent living for my family and In exchange society offered an offset. "We’ll assure you a decent pension when you retire after 30-35 years of service of 2% per year of service to a limit of 70% of your final average salary." That was the tradeoff. I knew it and teachers today know it.

I left the classroom after 20 years for one reason only. Only as an administrator could I earn the type of salary that would enable me to send my children to the colleges they qualified for and that my wife and I wanted them to attend. We wanted them to have the opportunity to be all they could be and education was and still is the key to a productive future for all students.

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The maximum salary that can be earned by a PC teacher with a master’s degree and 45 credit hours of study beyond that is $74,000 plus benefits after 25 years of teaching!

On the other hand the superintendent of schools earns $180,000 or 234% more. Principals, librarians, central office staff, the business manager all perform essential functions that enable a school district to function. Many are paid more than teachers.

If we were to truly believe the lip service we pay to the old saw that "the classroom teacher is the most important person in the process and that a good teacher is worth their weight in gold", then the highest paid persons in any district would be those classroom teachers who have earned the title "master teacher."

The demands on school principals are beyond the expectations of boards of education and even central office administrators in fact they create many of them. To properly evaluate staff is in itself a full-time task requiring hours and hours of observations, meetings, consultations and hopefully, constructive advice.

As an administrator who served in the role of "teacher evaluator" for 17 years, I would offer the observation that in general the person best able to evaluate is the Master Teacher. Teachers on staff know who they are and they respect them. They seek them out for assistance. Why not designate those teachers on a rotating basis to serve as the peer counselors and evaluators of new teachers and more veteran teachers facing career challenges and difficulties. Is there a role for principals? Certainly. But that role does not justify the salary differential that has been a part of the education compensation system for more than a half century. It is time for a change in our thinking and in the way compensation is structured.

The challenges facing us as a community school system are real. But they will not be resolved until we stop looking for scapegoats and begin to look for real solutions. All parties, including the teachers , the principals, superintendent and boards of education need to openly and honestly assess what we are doing and be willing to ask "is there a better way." I think there is!

Mike Andrews was the principal of Park City High School from 1991 to 1996, and worked in the district office from 1996 to 1999. He was a union president/activist in New York from 1964 to 1977.