An undervalued profession

Published 10:59 am Saturday, December 15, 2012

Money, I’m increasingly convinced, is overrated as a guarantor of educational excellence, especially in public schools.

New buildings and fancy technology won’t compensate for poorly motivated students and disinterested parents.

One essential taxpayer investment, though, is fairly to generously compensated teachers, who arguably are the biggest determinant of a kid’s educational success.

Virginia — and Franklin specifically — has skimped for too long on teacher pay. It used to be that states simply had to keep teacher pay scales competitive with surrounding states. Now, the competition for the best and brightest motivators of young people is other professions, especially in the private sector.

Gov. Bob McDonnell this week proposed a 2 percent across-the-board pay hike for public schoolteachers, who haven’t received a state-funded raise since a 3 percent increase in late 2007. It’s inadequate, but it’s a step. McDonnell, a fiscal conservative, is wise to understand the necessity of the $58 million investment. State lawmakers should as well as they consider McDonnell’s proposed fiscal 2014 budget.

State funding is only a portion of teachers’ salaries. Localities also contribute. Franklin’s poor compensation of its teachers relative to what they can make in surrounding school divisions compounds the deteriorating quality of public education locally.

Franklin High School Principal Travis Felts noted the problem in a recent civic club address. A teacher can make several thousand dollars more a year by commuting to Isle of Wight County, and indeed many are doing so. Franklin can ill afford that kind of talent drain.

If anything, Franklin needs to be paying its teachers more than Isle of Wight, Southampton and Suffolk schools pay. It’s one thing to ask a teacher to teach in a socioeconomically challenged environment, and to cope with all of the problems inherent with such a culture. It’s another to pay them less than they can make by driving 20 miles.

An analogy — risky because some public-school apologists will take it literally rather than figuratively — is the battlefront, where soldiers on the front line, deservedly, get combat pay that the desk jockeys back home don’t get.

Tough, important jobs demand good pay, lest nobody worth a flip will be willing to do them.

STEVE STEWART is the publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at