Teacher Signed for $45 Million!
After weeks of dramatic, often bitter, wrangling and bidding among the country's top three urban school districts, Amy Pomeroy, 38, an 11th-grade teacher of English at the inner-city McDonnell High School, signed on today with the Atlanta board of education to teach next year at a new school she herself will design and staff in South Atlanta.
Even in these days when the average public schoolteacher's salary now comes in at $1.4 million (the Preschool Teachers Association is understandably making the case that its current average salary of $800,000 does not adequately acknowledge preschool teachers' crucial influence on the very young), Ms. Pomeroy's contract for $45 million over three years is impressive, particularly since it is rumored that the Consortium of Textbook Publishers provided another $9 million for her signing fee.
Among professional athletes in the Southeast, there is understandable bitterness. When interviewed yesterday, Routher "Big Honky" Mather, veteran third baseman for the Atlanta Jockstraps, muttered, "Them teachers keep saying they are teaching 100 percent of the kids and only about 3 percent of the guys are coming out to the games since the strike. But keeping those 3 percent happy and smiling seems worth more than $18,000 a year to me. It just ain't fair to think education is that much more important than baseball."
Mr. Mather also bemoaned the lack of whirlpools, saunas, and adequate lockers and supplies for sports teams at a time when so much money is going into lavish educational centers.
In an interview, Raymond White, the Atlanta superintendent, justified Ms. Pomeroy's salary offer, pointing first to her impressive stats: Only 11 students over her 18-year teaching career had dropped out before finishing high school. Buoyed by the self-esteem that becoming highly competent readers and writers had given them, no girls in her classes had become pregnant or joined male gangs as their molls. An extraordinary 66 percent of her students went on to four-year colleges and universities, with the rest divided between community colleges and trade and professional schools. Of the 66 percent, 49 percent graduated with full scholarships from such top colleges as Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Carleton. Eleven percent went on to graduate school. There were even two Woodrow Wilson and one Rhodes scholarship among her students. Nationally, Ms. Pomeroy has won both the Disney Teacher of the Year and the State Farm awards.
In addition, there was her attendance record: Mr. White pointed out that Ms. Pomeroy had not missed a day of teaching in her entire career, teaching a consecutive 3,218 school days and exceeding, last May 13, the record previously held by Roger Hanson of Omaha Senior High in Omaha, Neb. (A citizens' group in Omaha begged Ms. Pomeroy to take a sick day so that Mr. Hanson's record would stand, but she refused, saying, "My achievement does nothing to diminish Mr. Hanson's sterling accomplishment.")
When pressed, Superintendent White acknowledged that Ms. Pomeroy had dictated some fairly tough terms to the system. Under their arrangement, she does get to approve any architectural plans for the new classical high school. Although class size will be 15 students per class with a three-class-a-day teaching schedule, teachers at the new school will get a preparation period for each period they teach. The teachers' lounge will be decorated by Eddie Bauer Home or Laura Ashley, depending on teacher vote.
As to the curriculum, all students will be required to become fluent speakers and readers of at least one language in addition to English. Although Ms. Pomeroy expressed her own preference for Spanish, given that the student population of the 21st century will be one-third Latino, she is willing to have the choice of language be the student's own. As part of the humanities sequence, since, as Ms. Pomeroy noted, there are now in the United States more Moslems than Presbyterians, all students will take a course in comparative religion, stressing the virtues of such faiths as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Baha'i.
One sticking point in the negotiations has been resolved, Mr. White noted. For the past seven years, Ms. Pomeroy has also served as librarian at her community library for 15 hours a week. She will continue this practice. In addition, during periods of high reading activity, such as in rainy seasons and in-year school vacations, she will be released full time. "Unless I can be both teacher and librarian," Ms. Pomeroy was quoted as saying, "I cannot accept Atlanta's offer." The president of the American Library Association reportedly served as negotiator during these sessions of the contractual talks.
It should be noted that the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association are planning to file a joint class action, claiming that, while they grant teachers are important professionals in this society, their salaries should not so drastically exceed those of doctors and lawyers. Members of Congress, of course, are investigating. One representative point of view was expressed by Sen. Delbert Gnaw, who commented: "Who do those teachers think they are? I need a plumber more often than I need any teacher I've ever met."