Maryland’s teacher salaries are low. Officials have a plan to raise them

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Dec. 14, 2018

Erin Davis once heard from a student that becoming a teacher would mean she needed to marry rich.

The 16-year veteran art teacher at James M. Bennett High School in Wicomico County was surprised to hear the stigma around teacher salaries is so ingrained that even students don’t want to give the career a chance.

“I don’t think I make a poor salary,” Davis said.

While Davis approves of her salary, she feels raising teacher salaries would help make the career more desirable and offer a better-fitting wage for the profession.

Education officials across Maryland are trying to do just that to help combat its shortage and retention issues.

“The whole idea of providing resources to create more community schools is important to help teachers succeed,” said David Helfman, executive director of the Maryland State Education Association.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, better known as the Kirwan Commission, is working on offering more to the teaching profession. It will present its report to the Maryland General Assembly in January, hoping to see legislation pass by April. Part of that proposed report includes increasing salaries, setting higher standards for hiring and offering more time for collaborations between colleagues.

“We want to have a number of things to sort of transform the profession from where it is now,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-22nd-Prince George’s.

Currently, the minimum salary for first year teachers with a bachelor’s degree is below $50,000 across the state. The Lower Shore counties all land about middle of the road with starting salary offers, staying around $44,000.

Pinsky explained when the final report is presented to the Maryland Legislature in January, the goal is to see a salary increase that is phased in over 10 years. The first goal is to see a 10 percent increase in pay over the first three years of the to-be-created legislative bill. This is in addition to a cost-of-living adjustment.

By the fifth year or 2023-24 school year, all starting salaries for teachers across the state would be $60,000.

Pinsky said the commission’s goal is to see teacher salaries be competitive with architects, accountants and nurses.

“We want to make it very clear we want more people to come into education and it’s going to be a respected profession,” he said.

Davis said if students could know they’d have a minimum starting salary of $60,000, she sees teaching becoming a more sought out profession. She knows from experience in Wicomico that trying to fill teaching positions is currently an uphill battle.

“That would be a big perk,” she said.

However, while the almost $20,000 increase in starting salary differences for teachers on the Lower Shore sounds enticing, education officials still have one concern: funding.

“I would say it’s a resounding yes (to raising salaries) — the question is going to be where does that funding come from,” said Vince Pavic, Wicomico County Board of Education director of human resources.

The goal behind increasing salaries for teachers and upping the amount of collaborative work opportunities is all meant to help with teacher recruitment and retention.

Plus, begin pulling job candidates from the top third of college graduation classes instead of the the middle third students, Pinsky said.

Helfman said this is an opportunity for the general assembly to advertise to this year’s high school seniors that if they go into education, their first year out of college is the year this $60,000 starting salary guarantee kicks in.

Not only would this encourage in-state students to go into education but it will allow Maryland to market to out-of-state universities that have always been suppliers of teaching job candidates.

“That will put us at a distinct competitive advantage with all other states,” Helfman said.

Pinsky explained this new salary blueprint is meant to reward, but also entice top job candidates. It would also offer additional salary earnings for state certification and would adjust the step system, or how teachers currently earn pay raises.

Still, John Gaddis, Somerset County Public Schools superintendent, is primarily concerned about the funding.

“We can’t stand another unfunded mandate,” he said.

Staying competitive

Davis didn’t enter college planning to become a teacher.

She attended Salisbury University to receive a bachelor’s of fine arts degree and went on become a graphic designer. She started at a job in the Salisbury area, but quickly discovered that sitting at the computer all day designing wasn’t for her.

“Enough people had told me I’d make a really great teacher,” Davis said.

She attended University of Maryland Eastern Shore for a master of arts in teaching degree and began student teaching at James M. Bennett High School. When a teacher retired at the end of the year, Davis received the position, leading to her career at the high school.

Davis said she loves teaching as everyday is different and she’s able to share her passion of art with the students. However, teachers today are asked to take on additional duties on top of their regularly assigned work which makes a raise a welcome change.

“We’re doing more with less,” she said.

On the Lower Shore, salaries for beginning teachers continue to drop below the $50,000 mark.

According to the Maryland State Department of Education, the minimum salary for a step one teacher with a bachelor’s degree is:

  • Wicomico County: $44,644
  • Worcester County: $44,700
  • Somerset County: $44,743

As teachers begin to gain more certification and education, salaries increase but not by much. Here are the maximum salaries for teachers with a bachelor’s degree with standard professional certification (SPC), according to the Maryland State Department of Education:

  • Wicomico County: $70,142
  • Worcester County: $51,489
  • Somerset County: $56,793

And compare that to the maximum salary for teachers with a master’s degree:

  • Wicomico County: $77,364
  • Worcester County: $83,496
  • Somerset County: $81,191

To attract candidates, school systems are working to stay competitive with what they can offer.

Pavic said salaries for Wicomico County public schools are largely driven by the Board of Education and what the county and state funding sources will provide.

“We definitely want to remain competitive with the school systems we’re competing with,” he said.

The school system also works to offer raises every year, but it’s contingent upon funding and discussions with the teachers’ association, Pavic said.

Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester all use a step system for teachers to receive raises every year or “step” they reach. Once teachers pass a certain amount of years they qualify for legacy or longevity steps and a pension program once retired that varies by school system.

A teacher’s cost of living adjustment is also based on funding every year.

“Every year the intention is to see something for teachers and other staff,” Pavic said.

All three Lower Shore jurisdictions also offer different tuition reimbursement programs for teachers going back to universities or colleges for more education.

While school systems are working to offer as much as they can, a big concern is the teacher shortage affecting classrooms.

Dwayne Abt, Worcester County Public Schools director of human resources, said with the state’s universities not producing enough job candidates, it creates an alarming picture for the future. Plus, pulling from out-of-state is also getting tougher with every state using the same tactic.

“My concern is people right now are choosing other careers other than teaching because they can make more money,” he said.

However, Abt said the current state of salaries isn’t stopping the people who have a true passion for teaching and working with children.

“You’re seeing that right now,” he said.

Career lattice

The Kirwan Commission is also focused on offering teachers time to collaborate and continuing to move up without entering administration.

Pinksy said the commission is creating a career ladder or career lattice that can move in different directions. As teachers show success in the classroom they can take on more responsibilities, moving up as a teacher leader or into administration.

“We want to increase the opportunities where people can show their leadership without going to administration,” he said.

Teacher leaders would be able to stay in the classroom, but use additional time to help other teachers in a mentor-style position. These titles would also offer a pay increase.

Officials on the Lower Shore aren’t seeing many teachers want to make the leap from teaching to administration on the motivation of a salary increase alone.

“My experience tells me salary is only one piece of the equation. There’s more to it that that,” Pavic said.

Pavic said most teachers in Wicomico realize entering administration means more hours and taking on different responsibilities. Unless an employee is truly passionate about taking on a leadership role, they typically stay in the classroom.

Gaddis said he sees the same thing in Somerset.

“Those who go into it for that (an increased salary) don’t last long in administration,” he said.

But the school systems also stressed when they are looking for candidates to fill leader roles, the best place to look is in the classrooms.

Pavic said he wants employees to see there is an interior pipeline to move up within the school system. The jurisdiction has a leadership cohort that’s about a year old led by Rick Briggs, chief academic officer.

The cohort brings in selected teachers for a yearly leadership training to teach them what to expect when they enter administration. Pavic said the program has been successful as people are now in administration who’ve completed the training.

Somerset and Worcester counties are similar as they look within to fill positions.

Abt said the school system even begins in the high schools with career pathway program. With current teachers, officials look to identify teacher leaders and put them in a program or positions of leadership to see if they would want to transition into that type of role permanently.

“We can grow our own,” he said.

‘You can’t get something for nothing’

When Davis showed the student who thought teaching couldn’t be a viable career the average starting salary for teachers, she received a positive response.

The teacher described it as a light bulb going off and the student finally giving the career field a chance. Until this change in teacher salaries occurs, if it ever does, Davis feels conversations similar to this one needs to occur more in schools to help erase the stigma that teachers make very little.

Davis does this regularly in her classroom by talking to students about what opportunities art teachers have along with other art career fields.

“I try to explain all the different careers in my subject area,” she said.

Funding for the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations will be determined by the general assembly, Pinsky said.

After the commission presents its report to the legislature, they will need to create the proposal on how to fund it as the commissioners weren’t tasked with that. Pinsky predicts it will cost a significant amount of money.

Pinsky said a down payment of $200 million last year was set aside, but it will need more money from state and local jurisdictions. Plus, with taxes on casino revenue being used for schools to enhance education funding above current state formulas approved by voters on Nov. 6, lawmakers are expecting a bump for education funding.

However, Pinksy warns that school systems can’t expect the state to be its savior and pay for it all. He said it needs to be a social pact to provide great education to Maryland’s children and that be reflected in jurisdictions’ costs across the state.

“You can’t get something for nothing. It’s going to cost,” he said.

Pavic said he believes if the Kirwan Commission could achieve this for the state, but his only concern is how.

“All of our schools are kind of in the same boat and there’s an element of hope, but hope is not a strategy,” Pavic said.

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