AUGUSTA – You would be hard pressed to find a lawmaker in Augusta who would tell you that all teachers make enough money, but lawmakers are split over how to fix it and some are deeply concerned about causing local property tax increases in the future.
Senator Rebecca Millett (D – Cumberland) is currently pushing a bill through the legislature that would immediately increase the minimum salary of Maine teachers from $30,000 to $40,000 per year and requires that after two years that teacher must receive an incremental pay increase that moves them above the minimum salary.
bill would use state taxpayer dollars to fund the increase in teacher salaries
for local school districts at 100% for the first year, 66% in the second year
and 33% in the third year. That is where some lawmakers and others have concerns.
that this structure will leave local property taxpayers holding the bag for an
increasingly large share of the bill each year after this year. Without a plan
to fund the pay raises long-term, the raise will be great for the politicians
to tout on the campaign trail next year, but will ultimately drive up property
taxes, they say.
The Maine House
and Senate have both approved the proposal, but in the House a roll call last
Thursday fell mostly along party lines with two “Independent” lawmakers voting against
the bill as well.
note from the Legislature’s non-partisan office has now been attached to
the bill that says, “Unless the required funding for
fiscal year 2020-21 is approved and enacted by the 129th Legislature, either in
the 2020-2021 biennial budget or other
legislation, the full cost of this measure will be borne by SAU’s. For any
future fiscal year that the State does not
fund the additional cost of this minimum salary requirement SAU’s will be
required to fund 100% of the cost.”
Of course, concern
over potential friction between local property taxes and teacher salaries also
has regional variations. A lawmaker who represents a school district that
already pays teachers well above the average is much less likely to worry about
driving up local property taxes than others.
of increasing teacher salaries point to the need to attract and retain high
quality teachers in lower income districts and say a competitive statewide wage
would greatly help in that pursuit.
Those who are skeptical point to the consequences of wage compression, which suggests that wages for all other teachers will have to rise to fairly compensate them above the new minimum salary, which will be increased by a whopping 33%.
that even if the state can afford such a large minimum teacher salary increase
all at once, that in a few years all the additional pay raises that are required
to compensate experienced teachers at a fair level above that new rate will
cause costs to spiral out of control. Combined with a declining contribution
from the state in the third year, and they say it could lead to spikes in local
Still, it looks
like Maine’s longstanding challenge of attracting and retaining high quality
teachers is on the radar in Augusta. Now it falls on lawmakers in Augusta to
find a way to pay for it, or to explain why they handed a huge bill to property
taxpayers, who in some parts of the state say they can’t afford much more.
According to the Maine Department of Educations Data Warehouse, the average Maine classroom teacher salary is $52,829. Following are the average salaries for the various classifications of teachers in Maine, followed by the number (in parentheses) of those teachers Maine DOE says are employed in Maine’s public schools:
Classroom Teacher: $52,829 (12,039) English Language Learner Teacher: $54,187 (147) Gifted and Talented (GT) Teacher: $57,760 (73) Literacy Specialist: $61,278 (147) Special Education Teacher: $51,259 (2088) Substitute Teacher – Longterm: $25,435 (28) Title 1 Teacher: $54,751 (162)
The bill’s fiscal note also says that the cost to local school districts for teacher retirement contributions will rise by just over $400,000 in fiscal year 2020-21 and that cost will be paid by local school districts.
The proposal also calls for legislation to be passed by the legislature in the future to provide additional funding, but there is no guarantee that will happen.