My name is Bill Valentine, a proud member of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. I represent the rural counties of Maryland for MACo on the Commission.
MACo fully supports quality education for all, but understands the Kirwan Commission proposals must be affordable. A great group of dedicated people have worked on the problem of creating better education in Maryland for the past two years. Many great ideas have been put forth, but unfortunately, not enough effort has been spent on the cost of the new proposals and the ability of the funding partners to pay.
The estimated cost over 10 years will average approximately $4 billion per year. Many of these dollars will have to come from county budgets, no doubt leading to rather large local tax increases.
Most troubling to me, is the “one size fits all” salary for teachers in all counties. A proposed $60,000 per year starting salary for teachers is more than 150 percent of the average household income in Allegany County while approximately 55 percent of household income in Montgomery County.
The salary issue is very expensive for all. It is hoped that a higher salary will attract higher quality teachers. I personally do not think teacher quality is the cause of our problems. No matter what salary is paid, there will always be those that are better, more caring, more willing to give a greater effort.
Another troubling issue is having teachers in the classroom just 60 percent of the work day. We are raising the pay significantly, and hoping to create higher quality teachers, but plan to have them in the classroom fewer hours. As a businessman, I want my highest quality employees on the job full time.
The extra time out of the classroom is to allow for collaboration with other teachers. Collaboration between teachers would surely be beneficial, but I believe 40 percent of the workday is extremely high, especially if we already have well trained, dedicated teachers. The planned time for collaboration creates a need for 20 percent more teachers, thus an expensive proposal.
As an elected official, I’m not sure how I would explain to our taxpayers that we need to raise taxes to give teachers rather large salary increases their first day in the classroom, before proving their ability, and they will be spending less time in the classroom for that higher wage.
It is time for the Kirwan Commission to now sharpen our pencils and create a more palatable proposal. As stated earlier, the commission is populated by intelligent, dedicated people, but only two of the 25 members represent county government. I personally think that since counties provide such a large share of the funding, they should have had better representation on the commission.
I also think more business people on the commission would have helped create a better over-all plan. It is only natural for there to be a difference of opinion between those receiving money, and those that are required to pay.
Years ago, the Thorton proposals were passed with no funding source. Thorton gave education a small, short-lived boost, but gave the state a long-term structural deficit. Education is of extreme importance, but the record shows money is not the answer. Maryland is already one of the highest paying states for education, but our results are below middle of the pack.
Leave teacher salaries up to local negotiations. Offer more scholarships to better train our teachers. Keep teachers in the classroom where they can do the most good. Offer state sponsored universal pre-k, work with local employers and government to offer better CTE and give teachers more autonomy in the classroom. These steps, I believe, would offer immediate improvements without causing financial hardships.