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State commission considers whether to raise teacher base pay to $60,000 over three years

Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s Public Education Compensation Committee heard an initial proposal this week for increasing Delaware teachers' salaries to compete with neighboring states as teacher shortages escalate nationwide.

Delaware lags behind New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania in average starting and overall salaries; Delaware teachers earn an average starting salary of just over $43,000, compared to $54,000 in New Jersey. That gap, along with mounting staffing problems at schools statewide, prompted the General Assembly to create the new committee to consider and propose adjustments to Delaware's educator pay scales in hopes of recruiting and retaining educators in the state's public school system.

In a presentation Monday, the Delaware State Education Association – the labor organization representing teachers statewide – proposed raising base pay to $60,000 to match Maryland, which aims to reach the same figure by 2026.

The proposal would the state’s contribution to teachers’ salaries — roughly 70 percent of the total — from just over $30,000 to $42,000 over three years at a cost of roughly $135 million to the state.

But several committee members note that assumes school district-level contributions would be able to eventually match the increased state contribution to reach $60,000. Taschner notes that for smaller districts, a salary increase on that scale could take upwards of 3 years.

Chuck Longfellow, the Chief Information Officer for the Christina School District, suggested that if the state increases its contribution to teachers' salaries, the current ratio of state to local funding for educator pay could "become a thing of the past."

"I can just imagine some of the tax revolts we would get" if the state pushed to increase local contributions through property taxes, he said.

DSEA also suggests allowing teachers to reach the highest pay scale faster, which Director Jeff Taschner says would offer a higher-paying career in the long term.

“For some reason, we’ve been led to believe that chasing small increases over a 35-year period is beneficial, rather than getting to a higher level sooner and earning that over the course of your career," he said.

Association Education Policy Director Jon Neubauer says by raising base pay, the state will also be able to provide late-career teachers with a raise of 17 percent or more over three years – a vast increase over standard annual raises.

“That addresses not only front-end problems – trying to recruit folks into the percentage, where they would see some of the higher percentage increases," he said, "but it also would allow folks who are further along in their careers to see significant increases as well in the hopes that we would be able to retain them in our classrooms.”

The proposed increase in base pay would only affect teachers and specialists, but state Rep. Kim Williams suggested that the committee might consider pay increases for support staff, including kitchen and janitorial staff.

The committee's final report on updating educator pay scales is due in November 2023.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.