For the second straight year, beginning teachers in Calvert County would get an 8.6 percent salary increase under a proposal submitted by schools Superintendent James R. Hook to the Board of Education.

First-time teachers with bachelor's degrees would receive $33,000 in the 2000-2001 school year, up from this year's starting pay of $30,400. Hook's proposal was based on recommendations from the school district's personnel office.

Although Calvert's starting salary was ranked third among Maryland public school systems this year, Hook said the county has to raise the salaries even more in order to maintain a high state ranking and attract more applicants.

"I do not want us to fall behind because we are losing teachers to other counties," Hook said in an interview. Both Montgomery and Prince George's counties had higher starting salaries this year.

Calvert had always been one of the highest-paying counties in the state, but salaries stagnated for three years in the second half of this decade.

For the 1994-1995 school year, starting pay for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree was $29,867, putting Calvert first among all Maryland counties. The following year, the salary decreased to $26,867, dropping the county to sixth in the state. The salary remained there for three years, and at one point during that time, the county fell all the way to a 13th place ranking.

The tide turned in the 1998-1999 school year, when the pay was increased to $28,000. It jumped $2,400 this year and would jump $2,600 next year under Hook's proposal.

School districts throughout the country are competing with each other for new teachers. To fill faculty positions in the midst of a national teacher shortage, many school systems are offering as many incentives as they can to attract applicants.

"We need a deeper applicant pool than ever because the need for teachers in the state and throughout the country is much more intense," said Charles Craft, executive director of personnel services for Calvert public schools.

Craft is already preparing for the upcoming competition for teachers. His annual recruiting trips have already begun, and earlier this year, he presented the school board with a teacher recruitment plan.

In it, Craft assumed that 50 of an estimated 125 new teachers hired next year will be certified and hold bachelor's degrees, but not have advanced degrees. The increase for them would total $130,000, Craft estimated.

The report also recommended that starting salaries for provisional beginning teachers--those teachers who have bachelor's degrees but have not yet received their teacher certifications--increase by $2,000, to $28,000. Beginning teachers with master's degrees or other advanced degrees should get increases of $900, to $35,000, the report recommends.

Not everyone at Thursday's school board meeting was convinced that increasing the starting salaries would be the best move. Board President Robert L. Gray said the cost of such raises could limit the number of additional teachers who could be hired.

"That's the trade-off: increasing the first-year salary or hiring five new teachers," Gray said.

Hook asked board members to vote on the proposal as soon as possible so that recruiters can begin telling potential applicants what the salary will be. The board agreed to consider the proposal next month.

"We're facing the real possibility of losing teachers," said board member William J. Phalen Sr. "We pay it now, or we pay for it later."