At least everyone can agree that teachers need a raise.

Everyone, that is, on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, which this session has been hashing out ideas for making teacher salaries more equitable across the state, so that poorer districts don’t lose talented, experienced educators to more wealthy areas.

One of those ideas — to raise the minimum salary from $30,000 to $40,000 — is simple and straightforward, and should be put into law. Another — to create a state-negotiated teacher contract — has potential but came to lawmakers with too many questions, and still needs work.

The latter idea began as a true statewide teacher contract. As originally conceived, L.D. 864, from Augusta Republican Rep. Matthew Pouliot with support from the LePage administration, would have given the state the power to negotiate one teacher contract covering all Maine school districts, with the state picking up the full cost of wages and benefits.

In a way, that’s remarkable, in one swoop raising state funding to more than the 55 percent that is in law, but which the Legislature has never met.

However, the money would have been distributed inequitably, with no regard for a district’s ability to pay. As a result, communities like Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth would have seen their state funding increase six- or seven-fold, while Lewiston and Waterville would have received less.


In response, the bill was amended to make the statewide contract voluntary, with the state focusing particularly on 38 economically disadvantaged districts.

A lot of good could come from that. Teachers in Maine’s smaller, poorer districts could be assured of competitive pay. The districts could have some degree of budget certainty, knowing wages and benefits were taken care of. School boards could be spared the time-consuming process of negotiating wages and benefits.

But the proposal, which was voted down along party lines in committee and now goes to the Legislature, still lacks detail. Who will decide if a district participates? Will teachers have any input? How will the funding through the state-negotiated contract work alongside other districts that receive money through the state funding formula, with all its mechanisms for equity?

Those are just a few of the questions surrounding a bill that was introduced with little detail, with the idea that the Department of Education and school districts could figure it out. And that was before significant changes were made in committee.

That’s no way to implement such a major initiative. Group contracts may work in some form, but before lawmakers go down that road, they should know a little bit more about where it is headed.

Far easier is simply raising the minimum teacher salary, with the state picking up the difference for poorer districts, as proposed in L.D. 818, from Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, which passed the education committee with a 7-2 vote.

It wouldn’t completely solve the inequity issue — nothing will, as long as districts are allowed to set local salaries in some way, and no one is proposing to take that away.

But it would give poorer districts the ability to raise the salary floor, nudging all salaries upward. Along with additional state education funding – such as that approved at the polls in November but now the subject of intense partisan fighting in the Legislature — a higher minimum salary would help attract and retain good educators. Together, they would help struggling districts increase academic offerings, buy the right supplies, and generally make schools a better place for students and teachers.

That’s the best and simplest way to solve what everyone agrees is a problem, and until there are more answers on a state-negotiated contract, it’s the way lawmakers should go.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: