Teachers Spurn an Unsolicited Starting-Pay Proposal

By Blake Rodman — June 18, 2019 3 min read

In what may be an unprecedented move, teachers in Montgomery County, Md., one of the nation’s largest and most affluent school districts, have rejected an unsolicited school-board offer to boost the starting salary for teachers by a hefty 16 percent.

The proposal would have brought to $20,000 the salary for first-year teachers in the 92,000-student district, a suburb of Washington.

Mark Simon, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said the union spurned the offer because it primarily benefited those at the bottom end of the pay scale, leaving about half the district’s teachers with no raise.

“We told the board that we would not agree to any proposal that would only significantly affect starting teacher salaries,” Mr. Simon said in an interview last week.

Widening Strategy

Seeking teachers in an increasingly competitive marketplace, a number of the nation’s school districts have sought to lure new teachers by disproportionately raising salaries at the bottom end of their pay scales. And a handful of states have mandated minimum salaries for teachers in an effort to make the profession more attractive to talented college students.

Officials from the nation’s two major teachers’ unions said the Montgomery County Education Association’s rejection of the proposed increment was unusual, if not unprecedented.

Members of the Montgomery County Board of Education said they were “disappointed” and “concerned” by the rejection of their initiative. The proposal required union approval since it would have amended the teachers’ three-year contract, which does not expire until 1987.

According to Mr. Simon, union officials informed the board that its initiative, while unacceptable, was a positive step and offered to discuss alternative proposals. But Mr. Cronin said the board “didn’t want to do that, since we start salary negotiations again next October.”

800 New Teachers Needed

In addition to boosting annual starting-teacher pay from $17,187 to $20,000, the proposal would have provided smaller raises for teachers with less than four years’ experience, said James E. Cronin, president of the school board. The initiative was intended to help the district hire the more than 800 new teachers it expects to need next year by making its starting salary competitive with those of surrounding school districts, he said.

Salaries for beginning teachers in Montgomery County are among the lowest in the region.

Mr. Cronin said the proposed increases would have cost the county schools about $2.7 million. Sharon DiFonzo, another member of the board, said she was “disappointed” by the teachers’ action. “It’s going to put us in a difficult position now for next September,” she said.

But Mr. Simon, the union official, called the proposal “unfair and divisive,” and “an affront to [the district’s veteran teachers.”

‘A Quick Fix’

“This is a quick fix,” Mr. Simon said. “If [the board members] want dedicated, sharp, and stimulating people to come into the profession, then they have to look at the totality of the career they are offering, not just the starting salaries.”

Mr. Simon said that the union’s 16-member board of directors voted unanimously to reject the initiative, and that the decision was later supported by a unanimous vote of the local’s 250-member representative assembly.

Mr. Cronin said he was surprised by the teachers’ rejection of the board’s offer because a $20,000 base salary would have given the union leverage when new contract negotiations begin next October.

“Since we would have raised beginning salaries this year,” Mr. Cronin said, “we would have expected to have had to do something for the teachers on the middle and upper end of the scale next year.”

Mr. Simon said if there had been a way to guarantee this, the board’s proposal “would have been acceptable.”

“But there was no way to guarantee it,” Mr. Simon said. The board might have argued in negotiations that so much had been spent attracting and hiring new teachers that no money remained for substantial across-the-board raises, he said.

Officials of the National Education Association--the M.C.E.A.'s parent organization--and the American Federation of Teachers acknowledged a national trend among districts and states to raise starting salaries disproportionately, but said they knew of no other district in which teachers had rejected such a pay increase outright.

They noted, however, that the situation in Montgomery County was unusual, since the offer was not made during regular contract negotiations and no compromise was sought.

A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 1986 edition of Education Week


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