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In my own words Teacher pay debate skirts major issues

By Staff
July 22, 2001
If we buy a ticket on the teacher pay raise locomotive barreling down the tracks, we are to believe that it will purchase a better education system, higher quality instruction and superior students.
With a special legislative session set for Monday to consider removing the provision that ties the teacher pay hike to a 5 percent growth in the state economy, pressure is shifting to the side of the education industry to achieve the higher pay goal.
Absent from the debate is any voice of concern that across-the-board pay raises are just the latest incarnation of futile efforts to throw money at education problems in desperate hopes that it will become an automatic solution.
And the question of where those greenback projectiles will be found as the state struggles against steep budget deficits is of no small consequence, despite the dearth of details on how to fuel the voracious government schools furnace.
By now the teacher pay situation is common knowledge. Although incoming Gov. Ronnie Musgrove made teacher raises the centerpiece of his election campaign and starting-block agenda, lawmakers balked last year at hiking salaries because of a money shortage. At the last minute, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who initially opposed the increases, steered a compromise through a Legislature skittish about offending the beefy lobby meisters in the teachers unions.
Prudent approach
The compromise was a fiscally prudent approach, if a politically unpopular one. It required that the state economy grow 5 percent before teachers could get their 5 percent pay boost. That is the sort of budgeting mechanics the business world that is, to say, the real world  employs.
Tuck was hailed as savior of the pay raise while safeguarding the state's fiscal integrity. Musgrove took umbrage over his inability to have the measure passed on his terms without the economic growth trigger, which didn't stop him from calling a news conference to boast of the victory. But he did not invite Tuck to share the stage.
That sophomoric breach of protocol was the genesis of the trench warfare that erupted between Musgrove and Tuck, who many political observers believe are positioning themselves for a showdown in the next gubernatorial election with the teacher pay issue as a central dividing line.
Naturally, the teachers did not cotton to the compromise. They felt betrayed over not receiving what they considered an entitlement raise, and loudly voiced their discontent.
Meanwhile, the governor, continuing his criticism of the economic growth trigger, shot himself in the foot in the process, fastidiously or foolishly neglecting to consult with legislative leaders to determine if they would be available on the date he chose. That sparked renewed guerrilla warfare between Tuck and Musgrove, but even more so from House Speaker Tim Ford, D-Baldwyn, who had his feelings hurt over what he called "a personal insult."
Musgrove relented and changed the date, but not before appearing to be either pick your preference a bumbling politician or a vindictive egotist. It is Musgrove's misfortune that most media scolds have focused on his actions and not those of Tuck, Ford or many other lawmakers, who have been guilty of some pretty ugly, openly hostile, undiplomatic remarks directed at the governor.
As for Tuck, well, she's become the government teacher lobby darling again after failing to win its endorsement in her election campaign  by completely reversing once rock solid principle and calling for repeal of the economic growth trigger to allow teachers to get raises no matter the state revenue shortfall.
Merit raises?
So as we approach the appointed day for considering teacher pay packages, we are hearing that it is the public's will that salaries be increased. But that same public also is keenly interested in results from their forced investments, and increasingly urging lawmakers to implement a merit raise system to ensure only the best and most accomplished teachers get what they deserve, and those who simply collect a check do not profit equally.
Where is the discussion on merit pay? It is off the radar screen because politicians are basically common cowards when it comes to angering the teachers.
There is some legitimacy to their yellow streak. The education lobby is traditionally thought of as a powerful monolith capable of getting out a vote of members that can elevate or sink a candidate's election hopes Tuck's win over their opposition notwithstanding.
In short, the government teachers are a special interest who use money from their state-paid checks to coerce the government and taxpayers to beef up their earnings. The Chicken Littles who scream for campaign finance reform that deprives citizens, business and citizen groups of political speech because it can affect the outcome of an election now seem to have no problem with the entrenched education special interests influencing public policy in a much more direct and tangible way.
Teaching is a noble profession filled with kind souls and committed citizens. They are deserving of respect and admiration. That still does not make pay increases an entitlement.
Dan E. Way is managing editor of The Commercial Dispatch in Columbus. E-mail him at