Teachers Being Shortchanged
Pursuant to a legislative resolve, a study was initiated regarding teacher compensation by a panel consisting of five legislators, one teacher, and one superintendent. Dwight Ely of the Cape Elizabeth TA represents MEA members on the study group.
MEA hopes the study will focus attention on the critical problem of low salaries.
“Maine’s system of compensation, which is based upon a flawed collective bargaining law, gives management an unfair advantage,” concludes MEA President Chris Galgay. “That allows school boards to shortchange salaries by small amounts that accumulate into large deficits over time. This is particularly true in poor rural communities.”
“Teachers are the central force in providing student learning opportunities,” Galgay adds, “and inadequate compensation packages pose a serious long-term threat to the quality of education in Maine. We cannot compete in a world economy without paying our teachers professional salaries.”
Much of the data provided to the commission supports MEA’s view.
On a comparable basis, 85% of the teachers in the U.S. are better paid than their Maine counterparts. Maine’s rank for average teacher salary declined steadily over the last decade and sharply in the last four years to 43rd at 83% of the national average.
Maine ranks last in salaries among the New England states and, Maine’s rank for average starting salary is 44th.
Maine’s teacher salaries have not kept pace with inflation. The average teacher would need to be paid 5.5% higher in 2007-08, or about $2,400 more, to receive a salary comparable with 1991-92 wages.
National data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that teachers lag well behind 23 comparable professions, earning 30% less than the average.
MEA Research Director Brian Kilroy points to two obstacles to fair compensation: Maine’s Essential Programs and Services (EPS) school funding model and the renewed interest in merit pay.
“The EPS formula locks in inadequate pay in Maine’s property-poor towns,” he says. “They do not have the tax base to pay competitive salaries and the State says those who teach in theses schools are not as valuable and as deserving of reimbursement as those in more affluent communities.”
“Equally unfair is the renewed interest in merit pay spurred by the federal Race To The Top grants,” says Kilroy. If additional funding is not being provided, paying one group of teachers more will mean paying another group of teachers less — and that makes no sense when they are all underpaid.”
The problem of low wages is compounded by a weak retirement program for newer hires under Maine Public Employee Retirement System and penalties under Social Security that deny Maine educators earned benefits.
“Low wages and the lack of control over basic teaching and learning conditions make it hard to attract and retain good teachers,” says Galgay. “With 25% of Maine’s teaching cadre above age 55 and nearing retirement age and another 16% over the age of 50, the recruitment of well qualified teachers presents a serious challenge.”