Education may be, in some sense, priceless. It also costs, and we generally get what we pay for. What are we getting? Are we paying enough? How can we tell?

Comparison is the best available measure: how does SAD44 compare with state averages, neighboring districts (competitors), and places we’d like to emulate? What should we compare?

Test scores are imperfect measures, but better than nothing; results are published periodically. College admissions are a useful measure of the opportunities we offer our students: how many high school graduates move on to which colleges or other rewarding activities? How do our students stack up versus those elsewhere?

Today school is not just about classes. It addresses the physical and mental health of students, advises and assists them in numerous ways. Are our schools doing enough? Compared to whom? As citizens, voters, parents, students, we need this information, readily available. Few of us will be entirely happy with the results.

To explain this information requires further comparisons. Attracting, retaining and encouraging good teachers isn’t easy. It’s harder when a district’s starting salary is less than the widely accepted minimum; to compete we must be at least average. Earning a doctorate gets a teacher a one and a half % (approx.) raise. Will that keep ambitious, highly qualified people around and happy when other offers come in? Are we getting and keeping our share of the best the state has to offer?

School bus drivers are vital; they’re in short supply. How does their pay compare with people who drive less precious cargoes? Substitute teachers are also thin on the ground. They must pass a background check, be trained in detecting and reporting child abuse (which suggests considerable responsibility) and come quickly when phoned at 6:00AM. They are paid the legal minimum wage, $2.00 per hour less than McDonald’s is offering.*

Surely we want our district to be among Maine’s best. We now know the voters won’t buy a half-digested expenditure proposal. But a thoughtful, well-documented plan for improving our children’s chances should be part of next year’s budget proposal. And we should pay for it.

*Full disclosure: David R Jones is a substitute teacher. He hopes to join the school board some day.

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