An Op/Ed By BEN DICK
President, Manchester Education Association
Twice in the last few months the Union Leader has seen fit to print the average salary of Manchester teachers, and in the same breath compare our pay to the pay of other groups in the state, most notably Bedford. In what seems to be an increasingly common practice, key omissions and misrepresentations play a large part in the paper’s piece.
In February of this year, the Board of School Committee was given a breakdown of the number of employees in the district. The number of teachers at that time totaled 1,256. Based on a breakdown by step and degree provided by the district at the same time, the average teacher salary worked out to $56,283. This is a difference of $1,066 to the number used by the Union Leader, which used older state data.
Missing from the June 7 editorial is a primary reason why the average salary may be higher than in other districts. Over the last five years, the teaching pool in the district has been reduced by 89 positions. That means 89 people who left the profession, in most cases at the top step, were not replaced. This artificially inflates the pool’s average salary because had those 89 people been replaced, the new teachers would have come in on lower steps, and brought the average down well over $1,000.
If you’re going to compare our district to Bedford’s, present all of the facts. While the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in Manchester is $33,904, the starting salary for the same position in Bedford is $36,151, more than $2,200 higher. In fact, the starting salary in Bedford is higher than someone on our second step. A Manchester teacher with 14 years of service and a master’s degree actually will earn $65,383 this year. The $70,744 figure used in the editorial was for teachers with a doctorate, and should have read $70,244. (Editor’s note: We regret the error).While a teacher in Bedford with 14 years of service and a master’s degree will earn $61,624, he or she also has the opportunity to continue receiving step increases up through the 18th year of service, topping out at $68,966 this year. In Manchester, when you hit your 14th year of service you do not move up the scale any longer and are making $3,583 less than the Bedford top step.
But beyond dollars and cents should be some good old-fashioned common sense. Working in Manchester public schools is not the same as working in the public schools in any other municipality in the state. Anyone who thinks that we can compare our district side by side with any other is mistaken. It cannot be done without an examination of the intangibles. Teachers in all districts today wear far more hats than they did even five years ago. We are teachers, but we are also social workers, advisors, truant officers, translators, assimilators and, often, surrogate parents.
Over the last five years, Manchester has had the lowest attendance rate of any public school district four times. The one year we weren’t last, we were second to last. We have fallen at least 2.1 percent below the state average in all of those years. Over the same time period, Bedford’s attendance rate has been from 1 to 1.9 percent higher than the state’s average.
The most recent data show that the student population in New Hampshire has a Limited English Proficiency population that makes up 1.15 percent of the total. This equates to 2,265 students. Almost 44 percent of the group — 989 students — goes to school in Manchester. Bedford’s student body has four of those students.
Beyond English proficiency, 26.57 percent of New Hampshire’s student population is eligible for free or reduced lunch this year. In Bedford, 5.11 percent of the population is eligible. In Manchester that number reaches 47.52 percent.
I don’t share these numbers and concepts to disparage any of our colleagues in Bedford or anywhere else. I share them to show a bigger picture — a picture that presents the complex challenges faced in our district and a picture that the Union Leader conveniently overlooks when trying to turn the public against its schools, against its teachers, and against its future.
Manchester and other districts are not the same, as demonstrated in a recent New Hampshire Department of Education review of four city schools this spring. Overall, the report states that teachers in Manchester clearly face challenges that their counterparts in other districts do not, yet they have fewer tools and less opportunity for coordination than their peers.
We aren’t the same population. We aren’t the same when it comes to the range of educational services we have to offer. We aren’t the same when it comes to the socioeconomic challenges our districts face. We aren’t the same when it comes to the number of positions we’ve lost in the last five years versus the number of students we’ve lost. We aren’t the same when it comes to salary opportunities. We aren’t the same, period.
And most importantly, we aren’t the problem.
Ben Dick is president of the Manchester Education Association.