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Sun has it wrong on teacher pensions, Worcester County

I am responding to your recent editorial titled, "Equity for pensions" (Jan. 9).

The editorial asserts that Maryland should transfer the costs of teacher pensions from the state to its 24 local jurisdictions. As a rationale, the editorial argues that the current funding formula gives money to rich school systems while not supporting poor school systems. The premise of the editorial is that school systems which have higher teacher pay should have their local governments pay the price of higher pension contributions. The editorial uses Worcester County Public Schools as an example of a high paying and wealthy school system without checking the facts.

In the case of Worcester County Public Schools, for our operating budget, we receive the second lowest amount of state aid in Maryland. We serve a diverse, rural student population, with 41 percent of our students residing in households of poverty. In addition, currently, Worcester County has a 16 percent unemployment rate and one of the lowest median household incomes in Maryland. While we have a high poverty rate, our state test scores consistently rank at the top of the state. We have eliminated the achievement gap at the elementary school level and have significantly closed the gap at the middle and high school levels. We have one of the highest on-time graduation rates and one of the lowest drop-out rates in Maryland.

One of the reasons our school system is so successful is our initiative to reduce class sizes. By having some of the smallest class sizes in Maryland, we can give students the individual attention that they need. Small class sizes and initiatives, such as a collaborative teaching model which pairs special education teachers and classroom teachers in the same classroom to co-teach students, means that we must hire more teachers. Also, we hire additional school psychologists, as well as speech, occupational and physical therapists to reduce case loads. This highly effective strategy does increase overall costs for the salary budget category, but it works.

The editorial erroneously assumes that Worcester County teacher salaries are disproportionally higher than those in other Maryland school systems. Our salary costs in Worcester County Public Schools are not driven by higher teacher salaries but instead by our desire to provide targeted individual instruction to students. In other words, we may have more teachers on a per-student basis, but they are not receiving higher teaching salaries. When compared to other teachers in Maryland, our starting salary ranks 15th in the state, out of 24 Maryland school systems. In fact, Worcester County teacher salary ranking in Maryland has been declining and not increasing as implied in the editorial.

The characterization of our school system in The Baltimore Sun is wrong. In Worcester County, we have dedicated teachers who are making sure that our children are learning and growing. Due to the efforts of our teachers, our students are succeeding. Because our teachers are committed to our students' success, they have sacrificed to keep our class sizes small. For the last three years, our teachers agreed to go without a pay raise to help our county and school system deal with our weak economy.

The potential transfer of teacher pension costs will punish school systems across the state but especially those school systems like ours which have reduced class size and provided the number of special education teachers and services needed to provide high-quality educational services for all students. If the teacher pension costs are transferred to our local government and passed on to our school system, the quality of our top-performing educational program will be severely challenged like never before.

For over 30 years, I have been reading the Baltimore Sun. Usually, the Sun, prior to offering an opinion on the editorial page, will do its homework by researching, conducting interviews and publishing articles about a specific matter. In this case, The Sun failed to contact our school system for comment or response.

If the editor or reporter who wrote the editorial had simply taken the time to contact me for comment, I could have helped the individual share a more accurate story with the public. Perhaps the editorial title might have been changed to: "A lesson in school system success — Our view: Keeping class sizes small is the best investment of taxpayer dollars and positively affects the economic development of our entire state. Thank you, teachers!" In the future, I would encourage The Sun to do its homework.

Jon M. Andes, Newark

The writer is Worcester County superintendent of schools.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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