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LETTER: Paying more for good teachers is less expensive in the long run

To the Editor:

Less than half our students receive the education they require. Unnoticed and un-mourned, they quietly fail at a rate of 50 percent or more, their opportunities flushed away.

This is documented in the annual SAT results and reaffirmed by the 39% of inadequately prepared students entering Central Maine Community College who have to take at least one remedial course. Teachers don’t like to hear this, neither does the school committee; students who are failing while falsely reassured by passing grades don’t understand; and parents don’t have a clue.

The community’s reaction to public education should be clenched-fist outrage; teachers and educators should be embarrassed and apologetic. Instead, during the ongoing wage negotiations between the teacher’s union and the Lewiston School Committee, in examples of both chutzpah and easy-going acquiescence, the teachers will ask for more and, if history is predictive, the school committee will provide more. Students, of course, if we continue to believe in the lessons of history, will continue to fail at or near the same percentage points.

We have workers (teachers) who are producing a product (educated students) that has a greater than 50-percent failure rate. Imagine if these teachers failed while trying to sew shoes in a factory or failed while preparing breakfast in a restaurant. Although educators fail and fail terribly, they still expect to be paid; they insist upon it—as if they were successful.

It is important to understand that the educators are responsible for the failures, not the students. A tailor can’t wrongly blame the customer if the pants are too short. And, just because the tailor tries to placate his customer, pleadingly rolls his eyes heavenward, shrugs his shoulders, turns his palms upwards and claims the next pair of pants will be better, it doesn’t mean they will be.

Public education, because it is a failure, is one of the sinkholes in which we pour the community’s money. If, however, our students could receive the education they require, the cost would be worth it. But continuing to pay for continued and enduring failure, while hoping for better results, is community insanity.

As individuals there is little we can do to improve public education. We are like those unfortunates who live in a violent neighborhood and are unable to move away. They see their children out the door every morning and can only pray no harm comes to them.

The authority to change public education resides with the elected school committee. They are empowered to negotiate and enforce a contract favorable to the improvement of education. It is, of course, shameful that they do not. When the ongoing wage negotiations have been completed and again early next year when the new two-year contract has been agreed upon, we should ask that committee how, in those two opportunities, did they modify the old contract for the benefit of our children?

I have a suggested negotiating position for the Lewiston School Committee. Instead of paying the teachers more, (if we continue to increase their pay and benefits, they may become convinced we are pleased with their faulty results), let’s hold their salaries at their present levels (teachers in Maine average $45,000 a year) and reduce their sick leave days from 15 to 10. Let’s place the estimated savings in a fund to reimburse Lewiston High School graduates who later have to take and pay for a remedial course to bring their language or math skills to the level that should have been imparted to them when they were in high school.

Alternatively, there are those who claim we don’t pay our Lewiston teachers enough and that we are not wage-competitive with other school districts. I am not insistent upon buying education on the cheap, but we should have acceptable results.

I believe we have all experienced at least one exceptional teacher and one or more bad ones, and we personally know the consequences of each. I strongly advocate paying effective teachers more than average teachers and eliminating ineffective teachers. We should determine those teachers with the ability to advance their students a grade and a half and pay them an additional $10,000 or more a year.

This is infinitely preferable to saving money by paying less for ineffective teachers that retard their students’ progress. It is similar to choosing to pay more for an efficient heating system and benefitting by buying less fuel. In this alternative bargaining position, we should not raise the base pay of teachers, we should still reduce the sick days and we should be prepared to pay really good teachers more.

As we lose teachers through attrition, and as we lose less capable teachers to other districts, let’s be especially careful that we replace them only with exceptional teachers. It will be less expensive in the long run.

Dick Sabine



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