Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Union leader warns that loss of raises could spur loss of teachers

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The head of the Prince George’s County’s teacher union said the absence of employee raises in Superintendent John E. Deasy’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget could persuade educators to find work elsewhere.

‘‘They’ll end up leaving to go to the highest bidders,” said Donald Briscoe, president of the Prince George’s County Educators Association, whose union represents nearly all of the county’s 10,000 teachers. ‘‘We recognize that [Deasy] and the school board have some tough choices to make, but not paying your staff is not the answer. For the most part, [teachers] will simply go to the next county.”

The county school board approved a 5 percent teacher raise in 2006 and 2007, making the system more competitive with nearby districts. Deasy’s budget proposal, submitted to the school board this month, does not include pay hikes or expansion of existing programs. Fiscal 2009 begins July 1.

County school board members said finding money for a salary raise would be a priority as the final fiscal 2009 budget is hashed out in the coming month.

‘‘We recognize that teachers are not overpaid by any means, and they deserve more,” said board member R. Owen Johnson (Dist. 5) of Bowie. ‘‘We’re going to have to find the money to pay them. ... We have to find a way to do that.”

Prince George’s teachers with undergraduate degrees start at $43,481 — $719 less than Montgomery County, which offers the highest pay among Washington and the six counties bordering Prince George’s.

Prince George’s teachers with master’s degrees start at $46,663 — $2,576 less than Fairfax County, Va., which offers the highest salary of Prince George’s neighbors in this category.

In 2004, new Prince George’s teachers made $37,910, while Montgomery teachers made $39,457. The difference has since been cut in half.

The school system has a teacher shortage of about 200 after a $300,000 advertising campaign helped fill more than 800 teacher vacancies last summer. Most vacancies are in special education — a problem in schools nationwide.

Briscoe said pay raises should keep pace with increased cost of living, especially in a high-cost urban region.

‘‘A loaf of bread and the price of gas won’t be the same next year,” he said. ‘‘Some districts find a way, no matter the budget difficulties. ... It has to be a priority.”