Reader responds to Mehlville board member’s ‘editorial’ on teacher retention

I read the “editorial” published in your Oct. 18 edition from Karl Frank regarding the retention of quality teachers. While I agree with his observation that quality teachers are a precious resource, I take exception to his attempt to perpetuate the myth that teachers are underpaid.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, elementary and middle-school teachers in the St. Louis metropolitan area earned an average $38.56 per hour as of June 2006. The average hours they were scheduled to work were 1,308. For comparison purposes, all management occupations averaged $34.96 per hour with 2,102 hours scheduled, and architecture and engineering positions averaged $30.90 per hour with 2,127 hours scheduled. Registered nurses averaged $24 per hour and police officers averaged $21.30.

School-teacher earnings may appear low when viewed on an annual basis, but teachers work fewer hours per year — unless one accepts Mr. Frank’s estimate of 2,392 hours, which would be 82 percent greater than scheduled hours.

Teachers are not the only wage earners who work extra hours at home and pursue continuing education opportunities. Many employees work uncompensated overtime and attend educational courses. Comparing earnings on an annual basis ignores the benefit the teacher receives from working fewer hours — the time can be used to earn extra money or to pursue enjoyable activities.

The earnings data reported above do not include retirement and health benefits nor do they consider the job security enjoyed by a tenured teacher. Most would agree these benefits are far more generous than what is offered in the private sector.

There may be a problem with teachers going from one district to another in search of higher pay. I found it interesting that Mr. Frank didn’t say they were leaving education to go to the private sector. This is reflective of the game played by corporate chief executive officers and fire department districts — the board is told the competition is paying 5 percent more so we must raise compensation above that level to remain competitive. And guess what? The competition reacts in the same way, thus escalating salaries unjustifiably in a never-ending cycle.

I believe the best teachers are underpaid and should be given generous salaries. However, the educational establishment fights this notion whenever it is raised, preferring instead to compensate teachers based on tenure and credentials earned — neither of these factors has been shown to identify superior teachers. So before the school board continues to hand out raises ostensibly to retain quality teachers, it may be a useful exercise for the board to examine their belief that teachers are chronically underpaid. Left unchecked, this continuous escalation of teacher salaries will result in a taxpayer revolt.

Carl Lane