Every tax is a pay cut.  Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation

Teacher raises surpass US rate Sunday, July 3, 2005
Maria Sacchetti, Tracy Jan, Globe Staff The Boston Globe
The average salary for Massachusetts teachers has been rising faster than the national average, setting off concerns that local school committees have given in too easily to teacher unions' demands and squandered limited money on salary increases.

Footing the bill for hefty salary increases already has depleted some local school systems' budgets and led to layoffs of the newest, and lowest-paid, teachers.  The pay increases also have sparked finger-pointing between some town and school officials over whether they raised salaries too quickly.  State officials say they are also upset that unions and school districts have made no move to link teacher pay to performance.

"It makes no sense to give raises and then turn around and lay off teachers," Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll said.  "I wish we could pay teachers more, I really do.  But we have to deal with the realities of the economy."

Average teacher pay in Massachusetts jumped 37 percent during the last decade, to $53,529 last year, according to a Globe analysis of state education records.  Average pay for teachers nationally climbed 31 percent during the same period to $46,752, according to the National Education Association.

Boston topped the list in the state, with an average salary of $69,022, up nearly 60 percent in the last decade.  It's one of the highest-paying urban school systems in the nation, but also located in one of the most expensive areas to live, according to a national teachers' union that represents many urban school systems.

School systems, in part, ratcheted up teacher pay over the past decade because they received billions of dollars in state aid as part of the 1993 Education Reform Act.  The act, in turn, pushed school systems to demand more of teachers, who are expected to hold students to higher standards.

Driscoll and others say the extra money did not necessarily always go to the right places.  Teacher contracts grant raises to all employees, good or bad, instead of giving more money to the teachers who deserve it most, they said.

But union leaders say increasing teachers' pay was long overdue in an expensive state that pressures teachers to perform at high levels -- and gets results, since Massachusetts is nationally known for high achievement.  When the amounts are adjusted for inflation, the increase is not as dramatic -- 7 percent over the last decade, according to the National Education Association.

"We've got to attract the very best and the brightest -- new, energetic young teachers who are highly qualified," said Kathleen Kelley, president of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers.  "If you're going to have the high standards, you are going to have to pay them."

Kelley predicts that Boston's average teacher salary will plummet next year as many older, higher-paid teachers retire.

Boston, which used to lag behind affluent suburban school districts in teacher pay, has not laid off teachers, but has left hundreds of teaching positions unfilled as its teacher pay rose to the top in the state, said Richard Stutman, president of the 7,000-member teachers' union.

"Boston is suffering under the state's failure to adequately fund local aid and public education," said Stutman.  "We make no apology for seeking adequate wages.  It's about time we've caught up to some of the other communities."

Michael Contompasis, the Boston school system's chief operating officer, said he does not "begrudge the teachers what they get because it happens to be what I think is an extremely difficult job."  Contompasis said he started in the district making $13 a day as a substitute teacher in 1965.

"The truth of the matter is that for years we didn't pay people in this profession the money they should have received," he said.  "But what we have to do is be vigilant and make sure we get a return on an investment that's worth the salary that we pay."

In other communities, town officials say playing catch-up has carried too high a price.

In Southbridge, one of the lowest-scoring school systems in the state, Ronald J. Chernisky, town councilor, asked the School Committee to renegotiate the teacher contracts because the town could not afford the 5 percent raises and other increases teachers received.  The School Committee kept the contracts in place, and on Tuesday, voters rejected a tax override that would have covered a nearly $2 million deficit.  Now the town may lay off nearly 70 teachers.

"Everybody's going to have to work harder if we have all these layoffs," Chernisky said.

The union and the School Committee could have found a compromise, a less generous pay increase that would have at least preserved jobs, he said.

Mary Ellen Prencipe, chairwoman of the Southbridge School Committee, said the teachers deserved the raises because they were making so much less than peers in neighboring districts and communities with similar demographics.

Also, they were being asked to do more, including teaching an extra period a day because the school system eliminated study halls in middle and high schools, she said.

"I stand by that 5 percent increase.  We were way off the mark and we're barely competitive now," Prencipe said.

"When you're not competitive, what teachers would you attract?  I don't believe you would get top teachers," she said.

On average, Southbridge teachers made $43,962 in 2004, up 21 percent since 1994.

In Saugus, the School Committee raised teacher pay after years of offering less than surrounding towns.  Before, prospective teachers would put Superintendent Keith Manville on hold to wait for a better deal from another school system.  Now, he said, he often gets teacher candidates to sign contracts on the spot.

Yet around the same time the raises took effect, the state's economy went into a tailspin.  Faced with the contract demands and less state and local aid, Saugus had to lay off more than 40 teachers and increase teachers' workloads.  Elementary class sizes rose to about 27 students from 22.

"I don't think anybody anticipated the bottom dropping out as quickly as it did," Manville said.  "We've had to tighten things up."

School officials say average teacher pay does not tell the whole story of what teachers earn.  Stutman, of Boston, said an average teacher making $69,000 would need at least a decade's experience, a master's degree, and additional training.

Lowell school officials say the average salary may reflect additional stipends teachers pick up from teaching summer school or coaching other teachers.

Average teacher salaries can vary by the number of years the teachers have been in the school system -- the longer the service, the higher their pay -- and the provisions of teacher contracts.

Nationally, Massachusetts ranks eighth among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., on average salaries and 13th in average increases.

Average salaries range widely in the Bay State, from a low of $34,504 in tiny Florida School District in North Adams to Boston's high of nearly $70,000.  In Springfield, the second-largest school system, the teachers earned about $22,000 less on average than Boston teachers last year.

"Nobody ever got rich on a teacher's salary," said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.  "The raises haven't been obscene."

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