May 27, 2012

The Post made the wrongheaded claim that by giving our employees well-deserved compensation increases, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is choosing “teachers over students” [editorial, May 25]. What The Post doesn’t understand is that an investment in our employees is an investment in our students.

Smaller class sizes, technology and new resources are important, but anyone who has worked in or around public education knows that it’s the people who make a difference. A well-trained, motivated teacher makes the biggest impact on the quality of education a student receives. An outstanding building leader can turn around a struggling school and make a good school great. An engaged and committed support staff bolsters instruction and makes sure that nothing distracts us from our mission.

Our parents understand the direct connection between the quality of our people and the quality of our school system. During public hearings on the budget, our parents repeatedly asked county leaders to recognize our employees by giving them their first pay increase in two or three years.

In its editorial, The Post ignored some important facts about MCPS.

The piece focused on the size of the salary increase that most of our teachers will receive over two years, yet the average increase for all district employees in that time will be below 5 percent. The Post didn’t mention that a large number of our employees work in supporting services. The hours of thousands of these hardworking people have been cut the past few years, and they earn significantly less than the county’s median income. Consider that our bus operators earn about $30,000 a year, on average. Even with their raises — which for many will be no more than 2 percent — they are far from catching up.

The Post clearly considers the relationship between MCPS, the Board of Education and its employee associations something that hurts our taxpayers and our schools. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our Professional Growth System, administered by our associations, is held up as a national model for improving performance and eliminating mediocrity. It is our employees that gave up their cost-of-living and step increases in recent years, saving taxpayers more than $140 million. And it is our employees, with our parents, who have helped make difficult budgetary decisions over the past several years. And even as they have had to do more with less, it is our employees — many of them Montgomery County residents and taxpayers — who have still helped our students achieve unprecedented results.

In fact, that achievement was highlighted in The Post itself this month as MCPS placed five schools in the top 100 of the newspaper’s High School Challenge.

You can’t get these types of returns without making investments.

Ultimately, the investment in our employees is about sustaining the future of the county. If you ask people why they moved to Montgomery County, most will tell you it’s because of the high-quality schools. To sustain this national reputation, we must retain the very people who make our schools the signature element of Montgomery County: our teachers, staff and administrators.

Joshua P. Starr, Rockville

The writer is superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools.