We pay top dollar for superintendents, why not teachers?

It seems a lot of people are making money off education with the exception of the classroom teachers.

I get a little more than irked when I see how unwilling legislators are to pay for the services for classroom teachers. Yet, when private business comes to the table to offer services, these same legislators are willing to pay top dollar. The legislators have this sense that you get what you pay for when dealing with the business community; that it's important to pay top dollar to ensure you get the end product you want.

In southern Nevada, the superintendent search committee's makeup is primarily business people. It's their recommendation that the new superintendent of the Clark County School District earn between $250,000 and $300,000. The rationale, of course, is you get what you pay for. They believe to attract the best candidates, you must be willing to pay them well.

I don't necessarily disagree. I just disagree with the application. If offering a competitive salary package is important to attracting and retaining people like superintendents, shouldn't that same argument work for attracting and retaining good classroom teachers?

Why should we be willing to pay a private business top dollar when the same job could be done in state by people in the field that would better suit the needs of our student population?

Private business, because of connections or campaign contributions, has gotten a grip of $650 billion education budget nationwide. Whether it's by book companies selling textbooks with incorrect information, testing companies incorrectly reporting scores or consulting companies that just charge very high prices for very poor work, the business community and Legislature seem to be willing to pay the tab.

That is, they are willing to out-source and pay the tab. But, and it's a big but, the business community and Legislature have not been willing to use that same logic when it comes to paying the classroom teachers.

Detroit's teachers went on strike this year because the average teacher salary was only $53,000. Last time I checked, Nevada's average teacher salary was approximately $38,000. Beginning teachers only make $26,000.

The nation is experiencing a shortage of teachers, as is Nevada. Nevada has implemented high-stakes tests as an accountability measure. Students who don't pass those tests cannot graduate. But accountability is a two-edged sword. The Legislature that implements these high- stakes tests must also ensure that the students have highly qualified teachers to teach to the new, more rigorous academic standards. The same legislators who are most critical of public education are clearly doing absolutely nothing to ensure our kids are taught by teachers with the knowledge and resources to be successful.

They are doing absolutely nothing to help attract and retain the nation's best and brightest teachers to come to Nevada. It will be interesting to see how these legislators defend themselves when parents of students file suit against the state because their sons and daughters could not pass the high school exit exam. It will be especially interesting if these students were taught by substitutes because the Legislature would not put money on the table to attract qualified teachers. Would we really expect students to pass these high-stakes tests when they are not afforded the benefit of a qualified teacher?

I am not predicting a shortage of teachers in Nevada, it's already here. In Clark County, there is a shortage of 16 math teachers in the high schools alone because of licensing. I don't know the shortage of middle- school math teachers. What's the probability that those 2,500 to 3,000 students who are currently in high school will pass an exit exam?

Well, I believe what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If the business community and Legislature are wiling to pay top dollar for high-profile people or for the services of private business, then they should be willing to pay top dollar for the people who are most important to students' education - the classroom teacher.

I believe the governor and Legislature should plan on providing a 15 to 20 percent increase in salary to ensure our kids are taught by the best and brightest teachers from across the nation so we can be sure that our students have an opportunity to meet the new academic standards.

Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a member of the Nevada Board of Education. His views do not necessarily reflect those of other members. His e-mail address is bhanlon@accessnv.com.


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