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Politics

Legislature Considers Boosting Maine Teachers’ Pay

Teachers in Maine have the lowest starting pay in New England, and Maine ranks 41st in the nation for teacher salaries. Lawmakers are considering some measures aimed at addressing that issue.

If state Sen. Rebecca Millett has her way, teachers in Maine would earn a minimum salary of $40,000 a year. The South Portland Democrat told members of the Legislature’s Education Committee that many young teachers are graduating with heavy debt and that Maine schools will face a growing shortage of teachers if nothing is done to make the profession more financially attractive.

“Nearly one-third of our teachers are 55 years or older. In the next 5-7 years, thousands of Maine educators are going to retire. Today, we already have teacher shortages in industrial arts, mathematics, science,” she says.

Several teachers testified that low pay has made them think about a career change. Cassandra Edwards of Kittery says she loves teaching, but feels that the job is undervalued.

“I didn’t get into teaching for the money. But every once and a while it comes up that people with way less essential jobs than me make way more money than I do, and it is a little frustrating and depressing,” she says.

Edwards says she and her husband had decided to put off starting a family because they were worried about whether they could pay for child care. Other teachers talked about difficulty in buying a home because of their low pay.

Several educational organizations told lawmakers that while they support the concept of raising teacher pay, they take issue with some of the other provisions of the legislation. One would require a grade point average of better than 3.0 to become a certified teacher and qualify for the minimum salary of $40,000 a year.

Dick Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals Association, says that in his years of hiring teachers he hasn’t found that the grade point average in college is a good predictor of teaching ability. He says he has declined to hire some candidates with high grades because he could tell during the interview process that they would not make good teachers.

“I have also known and hired a lot of people that had less than 3.0, and for many of those, they ended up as the best teachers,” he says.

No one opposed the legislation at the hearing, but in his weekly radio address, Gov. Paul LePage made a case that a better way to achieve higher teacher pay would be a statewide teacher contract. He says the average salary for teachers in all of New England is $70,000 a year, and Maine teachers deserve higher pay.

“In Maine, they settle for $20,000 less, which is $8,000 below the national average. Sadly, union bosses who claim to represent our educators don’t want to work on solutions that will increase teacher wages,” he says.

LePage says past efforts to improve teacher salaries have failed, and teachers are being hired for less than the current minimum salary of $30,000 a year.

LePage’s proposal and other bills dealing with a statewide contract for teachers have yet to be taken up in committee.