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Teacher pay becoming focus for school districts

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A resolution seeking to raise Maine’s starting pay for teachers to $40,000 did not pass at the recent fall conference of the Maine School Board Association, but education experts say that school districts will still face pressure to pay young teachers better.

At the Maine School Board Association’s fall conference in late October, a resolution endorsing the idea of setting a statewide minimum starting teacher’s salary at $40,000 with state support failed to pass, said Steven Bailey, executive director of the Maine School Management Association.

The resolution received the support of more than half of the delegates from school boards across the state, but failed to the gain the necessary two-thirds majority, Bailey said. Those who did not support the idea largely represented smaller districts and were concerned about the possibility of local taxpayers taking on the responsibility for higher teacher salaries in the absence of funding from the state, said Bailey, who did not take a position on the resolution.

The failed measure comes as school districts are increasingly struggling to attract and retain new teachers amid a tightening labor market and a wave of older teachers retiring.

There’s nothing stopping school districts from instituting their own $40,000 starting teacher salaries, but passing the resolution would have sent a strong message, Bailey said.

“Across the state, school districts are concerned about both attracting and retaining quality staff,” Bailey said. The declining student population in many Maine school districts “doesn’t mean that students don’t need quality people in the profession.”

Overall, fewer people are entering the teacher profession in Maine, and the state has the lowest starting teachers salaries in New England, Bailey said.

The current starting teachers pay of $30,000 was set in 2005, with state funding made available to help districts meet that requirement. In recent years, legislation has proposed setting the starting pay at $40,000, but has not been enacted.

Exact data on this year’s starting teachers salaries are not available, but in the 2016-2017 school year, starting teachers in Maine earned an average of $33,876, according to the National Education Association. Nationwide, starting teachers earned an average of $38,617 in that school year.

In Maine School Administrative District 1 in Presque Isle, new teachers earn a starting salary of $31,637.

Other districts have raised their salaries by several thousand dollars.

In MSAD 42 in Mars Hill and MSAD 24 in Van Buren, the starting teacher salary is now $37,000, up from $32,000 and $30,000 respectively from the last teacher’s contract, said Elaine Boulier, who serves as superintendent of both districts.

Young teachers today enter the profession with more education debt and more professional licensure requirements than teachers did a generation ago. Those two factors, combined with lower pay, create a disincentive to enter the profession, said Boulier.

“If I can make a $60,000 starting salary in the private sector, I’m probably going to go there rather than in the teaching sector,” she said.

“Increasing teacher pay has got to be a reality at some point,” Boulier added. “We have a shortage specifically of science and math teachers not just in The County, but statewide. I think it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.”

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