Teachers’ pay bill passes in House

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AUGUSTA (AP) – In his State of the State speech in January, Gov. John Baldacci proposed pay raises for Maine’s teachers. On Friday, Baldacci was close to getting his wish.

A final vote was pending in the Senate on a bill to increase the minimum salary for Maine teachers to $30,000 a year, which supporters say is $3,000 higher than the statewide average. The bill won final approval in the House on Friday by a 76-68 vote and was sent to the Senate.

Representatives who voted against the bill said during a debate before the roll call that they weren’t opposed to the higher pay itself. However, they expressed concern about added costs they were foisting on the local school districts and said pay was a local control issue.

The Maine Municipal Association contends that average teachers’ pay is closer to $40,000 a year, while starting average teachers’ pay $27,000.

The bill awaiting final action would increase teachers’ pay over two years. School districts that are not already paying the proposed minimum would be compensated by the state for the difference during the next two years.

Sen. Elizabeth Mitchell, a leading supporter of the bill, said the raises will make it easier to attract and retain teachers, especially in rural parts of Maine. One in every five teachers leaves after the first year, and almost twice as many leave within three years, said Mitchell, D-Vassalboro.

The last time the state set a minimum teacher salary was 1987 at $15,500. Supporters also cite an American Federation of Teachers report that ranks Maine’s average beginning teacher salary as 45th in the nation and Maine’s average teacher salary as lowest in New England.

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