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Maine Commission Recommends Teacher-Pay Hikes

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A special commission established last year to devise a long-term plan to raise the salaries of Maine's teachers has recommended a statewide minimum salary of $16,000 by 1987.

But the proposal may prove divisive in the legislature, which created the commission in the first place because lawmakers could not agree on a plan.

The Special Commission to Study the Implementation of Educational Reform presented its interim majority report to the legislature's joint education committee in late March. Hearings on the report are expected to begin this month.

Gov. Joseph E. Brennan supports the commission's plan, according to an aide, even though it would phase out after one year the $2,000 "teacher-recognition grants" that the legislature, under intense pressure from the Governor, approved last year as part of a sweeping education-reform package. All full-time teachers in the state, including guidance counselors and library-media specialists, qualify for the grants.

But opposition to the commission's plan is expected from several different directions: from legislators who consider the $2,000 grants a mistake, from groups who fear that state-mandated minimum salaries for teachers infringe on local control of schools, and from teachers who consider the proposed $16,000 base too low.

Already, four members of the 12-member commission have dissented from the majority's conclusions and have filed two separate minority reports.

$27 Million for Teachers

In recommending a statewide minimum salary for teachers, the commission's majority returned to an idea advanced last year by the Governor's Commission on the Status of Education in Maine, which had recommended that a $15,000 minimum salary be put in place by the fall of 1985.

The current starting salary for teachers in Maine averages about $12,200, according to Robert E. Boose, commissioner of education. That places Maine among the bottom five states in the nation, he said.

Although the Governor followed most of the earlier panel's recommendations in shaping his reform package, he rejected the $15,000 minimum as too costly, and instead asked the legislature for the $2,000 grants.

The legislature, acting on the belief that there were 13,500 full-time teachers in the state (it later discovered there were more than 13,800), appropriated $27 million for the grants and agreed in principle that the funds should "continue to be available to enhance education in Maine" on an annual basis.

But the education committee could not agree on whether the $27 million should be paid out in future years in direct grants to teachers or be turned over to local districts to spend at their discretion.

Commission's Plan

Under the new commission's plan, the grants already approved by the state legislature would be paid to teachers in two installments of up to $1,000 in February and August of 1986.

In the fiscal years 1986 and 1987, districts would receive block grants based on the August payments, which they would have to use to "increase educator salaries above 105 percent" of the previous year's level, or for other means of teacher compensation.

The commission also recommends raising the $27-million annual appropriation to $28.5 million, to finance payments to teachers who were not previously accounted for and to include part-time teachers, who are not now eligible for the stipend.

In fiscal 1988, the $28.5 million would be rolled into the state-aidel5lformula, increasing the state's share of education costs from 55 percent to 60 percent.

Opposition From Management

Shawn Millet, associate executive director of the Maine School Management Association, an umbrella group that serves the Maine School Boards Association and the Maine School Superintendents' Association, said his organization has three major objections to the commission's plan.

Chief among them, he said, is the requirement that districts raise salaries by 5 percent per year or forfeit the block grants. "They're almost assuming the role of the local employer," he said.

By channeling money to wealthy districts, the block grants would also "have damaging implications for equity," he said. And finally, he said, the commission has not demonstrated that districts could reach the $16,000 minimum without incurring heavy costs.

Likewise, Keith Harvie, communications director for the Maine Teachers' Association, said, "I'm not sure all the funding levels are in synch. Where's the money coming from?" The mta would also "like something more" than the $16,000 minimum, he added.

But Commissioner Boose said routine collective-bargaining increases, combined with the $28.5 million from the state, would enable most districts to meet the $16,000 minimum.

Kenneth Hayes, chairman of the commission and former chairman of the Senate education committee, added that the requirement of a 5-percent salary increase would "ensure that the money is used for the purposes intended, ... and not used to replace other costs."

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