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"Jim" was born and raised in Carroll County.

He attended county schools from kindergarten to senior year.

Jim earned a bachelor's degree from Western Maryland College.

When Jim graduated, he decided to stick around. He wanted to teach, and he wanted to stay with his roots, even though starting teacher salaries in Carroll were the lowest in the region.

Jim married his college sweetheart. Before long, their family began to grow. The small apartment in which Jim and "Jane" had started their life together hadbecome much too intimate.

A home of their own would be a strain on Jim's salary. When the kids were older, Jane would get a teaching job, too.

They settled on an attractive rancher. To make ends meet,Jim took a part-time job. Things were tight, but they kept one step ahead of the mortgage payments and most of their other bills. Happily, Jim's health benefits helped offset the cost of pediatrician services.

Meanwhile, Jim figured he'd better get started on a master's degree. The master's would allow him to stay certified and would also qualify him for a small, much-needed salary increase. Working two jobs and taking night classes would be difficult, but Jim would do what he had to to keep his home and preserve his family's security.

To help out, Jane began to substitute teach occasionally in the school their children attended.

Today, Jim has 14 years of service as a county teacher under his belt. With the master's degree and years in service, Jim's salary has increased substantially. What he and Jane can't figure out is why their income doesn't stretch farther.

They still live in their snug rancher. Jane teaches half-time. That way, shecan generate some income and still have time for the kids. The thirdand youngest is just starting first grade. The oldest goes to high school soon. Jim and his wife are wondering how they will meet their children's college expenses.

As hard as they have worked, Jim and Jane haven't been able to save much. They buy little new clothing for themselves, keep their cars as long as they can, entertain rarely anddine out only on special occasions.

While Jim's salary has risen steadily over his career, the increases have been sporadic and unpredictable. This year, raises look especially tenuous.

The Board of Education and the Carroll County Teacher's Association are at an impasse on this year's contract. If the current agreement stays in place, Jim will receive a modest increment, about 2.8 percent.

That doesn't sound too bad, but Jim and his colleagues expect to see a big chunk of their raises eaten up by anticipated steep increases in health-care benefits. Jim's total pretax raise will be less than $600 after he accounts for the big jump in Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Jim knows that Carroll's average teacher salary of $36,724 in 1990-1991 exceeded the national average of $33,015. But he also knows that Carroll's teacher salaries were more than $2,000 below the Maryland average.

Jim knows that hard economic times are upon us. But he and his colleagues think they deserve better, and are tired of being compared toteachers in other states.

His students perform at the top of all of the state's accountability tests. Administrators rate Jim's performance in the classroom as outstanding. He is a PTA board member.

Jim volunteers to chaperon dances and skating parties. He spends several hundred dollars a year out of his own pocket to buy additional supplies and materials for his classes.

But Jim doubts that his community appreciates his commitment. He wonders why students seem to lovetheir teachers only until those students become taxpayers.

"Why don't they think of their favorite teacher when they vote?" he muses.

By all measures, Jim does his job extremely well. If he were in sales, he would receive rewards commensurate with his effectiveness.

As a professional educator in his home county, his rewards include diminished respect and continual criticism. Jim intends to hang tough,but his rope gets ever shorter and more frayed.

The other day Jimsaw a plaque in a bookstore window. "To teach is to touch a life," it said.

"Sure," he thought. "And to teach is to wonder if anyone values what I do."

What's your opinion? Please write to Letters to the editor, The Carroll County Sun, 15 E. Main St., Westminster, Md. 21157-5052; you also may fax your comments to us at 876-0233.

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