Opinion: Salary freeze bill should be a concern for local boards

Compared to other industrialized countries, the United States high school students score in the middle of the pack.

The International Student Assessment showed United States students scored 16th in science and 23rd in mathematics. This comes at a time when it’s apparent this generation of students will be competing for jobs and careers in a global market.

In a recent study by Education Week, which graded the states in six categories, Minnesota received an overall mark of C, placing it 36th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Minnesota, the report said, spent less in per pupil funding in $10,048 than the national average of $10,287 in 2008.

A recent report says that 40 percent of high school graduates in Minnesota must take one remedial class before they are allowed to do college work.

While Minnesota students lead other states in graduation rates, in fewer dropouts and in ACT college entrance scores, there’s concern Minnesota’s K–12 education is falling behind.

The state Constitution requires the Minnesota Legislature “to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The Legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.”

Since 1984, discounting increases for special education, building maintenance funding and factoring in inflation, the funding for K–12 education has been flat. This legislative session, those in the know say K–12 education per-pupil funding will stay the same or go down.

Some legislators’ latest suggestion, which is gaining momentum, is to freeze the salaries of the teachers beyond their existing contracts — the very ones parents count on to educate their children.

The logic is that since the state Legislature has a $6.2 billion deficit and since the Republican majorities in both houses won’t raise taxes, school districts won’t get any increase for the next biennium.

Critics of this proposal point out that school districts have been cutting teachers for several years, causing class sizes to get bigger. Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher says teachers already have had their salaries frozen, including steps and lanes for more education and experience.

Local school boards should be concerned because the measure is aimed at reducing local control of giving teachers the pay they deserve. Those school districts in the state with the money, due to prudent management and size, will not be able to pay teachers salaries they deserve. Teacher salary negotiations are a local responsibility.

This sends an anti-teacher message to those teachers whom everyone says are the most valuable in the school system and are being asked to do more with less. To the amazement of some, state associations of administrators are backing the freeze and ducking their responsibility to negotiate teacher salaries, although they prefer to see tax increases to fund public education.

At the time when the Republican majority is crusading for a drop in the corporate income tax, which could cost the state $200 million, it is asking teachers to do without a salary increase for the next two years.

Now, we know the priorities of this Legislature.— Don Heinzman, ECM Publishers

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