High Regard for Doctor

In response to the allegations of sexual assault against Waheed U. Akthar, M.D., of White Plains Medical Center:

I have known Dr. Akthar for 17 years and have worked professionally with him for six years. He has always exercised extreme professionalism and conduct with his patients. I have known him to be one who would take a few extra moments to reassure those patients who have lost loved ones as well as those who were ill or injured. I have also been present at social gatherings with Dr. Akthar and found his conduct to be in order and respectful.

I urge all people who feel the same as I to make your presence known and to back him promptly. My family and I highly respect his services and feel he is a great asset to the people of Southern Maryland.

Mark S. Irving

Mobile intensive care paramedic

Chesapeake Beach

Snuff Out Idea of Ban

An open letter to the Charles County commissioners:

I read that, in order to remove tobacco's negative influence on children, to eliminate secondhand smoke in the parks and to reduce cigarette butt litter, your parks and grounds chief, Tom Roland, recommends banning or restricting tobacco use in parks.

Commissioner [W. Daniel] Mayer [R-La Plata] thinks the police have better things to do than enforce such rules, and Commissioner [Wayne] Cooper [D-White Plains] doesn't think it's government's job to change people's lifestyles.

I agree with them. If the government wants to remove negative influences on children, to eliminate secondhand effects of careless behavior and to reduce litter in public parks, it might also consider banning fornication in such places.

J.N. Brown

La Plata

Gray Off Base on Hoyer

Every community in America has its town crank. Well, St. Mary's County seems to have its own also, and that is Vernon Gray.

I don't begrudge Mr. Gray his freedom of speech; after all, it is protected under the Constitution. But all he does is whine and complain without offering any solutions or anything constructive. Mr. Gray seems to have a particular ax to grind with 5th District Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D).

Certainly, Mr. Hoyer, one of the most skilled and dedicated public officials, doesn't need me to defend him. My question to Mr. Gray is, what do 70 percent of the voters in the 5th District, both Democrat and Republican, see in Steny Hoyer that you don't or won't?

I'll tell you what I see: a congressman who is honest, hardworking, responsive to the community and incredibly effective. I will vote for Steny Hoyer in November without hesitation and believe the majority of voters will do the same.

Shannon Tierney

Lexington Park

Pay All Educators Well

On behalf of the Education Association of Charles County, I would like to respond to a recent article (Education Leader's Salary Rises Over 3 Years, Joshua Partlow, June 13, 2004). While I appreciate Mr. Partlow's focusing attention on the salaries of education employees, I disagree with his implication that any of them -- including the superintendent -- are overpaid.

I was interviewed for the article, and Mr. Partlow accurately reported my contention that lowering the salaries at the top would merely depress the pays scales for everyone employed in the public schools. Frankly, I don't want to see anybody in the education field make less, and if any CEO in private industry had 40 building sites, 26,000 regular "clients" and 2,500 employees, plus all the financial, program, technology, staff development, legal/compliance and public relations responsibilities that [Superintendent James E.] Richmond has, they'd be making five times what he makes. The real issue is the way education professionals at all levels are paid compared with people in other professions, especially considering the education requirements, enormous legal and emotional responsibility, and crushing workload that go with teaching.

In another article in that edition, Mr. Partlow compares "average" teacher salaries in Southern Maryland, and he states Charles County ranks 16th statewide. Using a number like average teacher salary is a statistically useless comparison because it is more an indicator of the age of the teaching population than potential salary. In Charles County, about one-fourth of our teachers are on the first four steps -- so of course the average salary is lower than counties with a higher percentage of experienced teachers. The average salary will almost always be lower in a growing county because of the newly hired.

A more useful comparison would be that of the salary scale to the same steps and lanes on other scales; based on that analysis, Charles ranks between fifth and 11th in the state, depending on step (we are not 16th on any step). But comparing Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert teachers to other underpaid teachers in the state just distracts us from the real problem. The point is that we should focus on paying teachers -- all over this state -- what they are really worth so they will not leave public education.

It is easy for the Board of Education to pay a few employees a salary that is commensurate with their responsibilities. Taking that money away and giving it to everyone won't help: A hundred thousand dollars spread over 2,500 employees won't make us competitive. The real issue is, even if the Board of Education declares employee compensation to be the number one priority in its budget (as it did this year), when are board members going to get the money they really need to fix the problem, to finally pay the people who are the backbone of the education system -- the teachers, the vice principals, the support staff -- commensurate with their responsibilities and levels of education? Arguing over who got 3.6 percent and who got 2 percent or 3 percent, and picking at a few people's salaries is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. There's an iceberg ahead, a critical teacher shortage, and taxpayers and policymakers are barely doing lip service to the problem.

Board of Education Chairman Kathy Levanduski said the superintendent works "24/7." Yes, and so do teachers and school administrators, and it's a major reason for the teacher shortage. A survey by the National Center for Education Statistics found that Maryland teachers spend an average of 10.6 hours per week outside school hours on activities that did not involve students. Add to that the student activities they volunteer to sponsor after school and on weekends, the shopping for classroom materials on their own time and at their own expense, and the pursuit of required graduate classes on their own time, and it is easy to see why the job is overwhelming.

On top of that staggering workload, over half of the teachers in Charles County (per an EACC survey) work part-time and summer jobs to make ends meet. The idea that teachers work 10 months is a joke. School has been out for over a week, but if you walk into any school building today you will find teachers there packing supplies, moving furniture, finishing paperwork, making plans, and meeting with colleagues to discuss schedules and curriculum for next year. These same teachers will also be back at school weeks before they are paid to be there, setting up their classrooms and planning with other teachers.

For all this, a starting teacher in Charles County will make $35,000 next year; a teacher with a master's degree and 10 years of experience will make $48,000. By contrast, the median household income in Charles County was $69,350 in 2002 (it is likely even higher now). Per Maryland Department of Labor and Licensing and Regulation statistics for Southern Maryland, the entry-level salary for a public relations manager is $48,600; the experienced salary is $104,925 (median $96,875). A management analyst's entry salary is $45,450, experienced salary, $72,400 (median $62,925); a registered nurse's entry salary is $48,857, experienced salary, $69,900 (median $64,025); and a computer programmer's entry salary is $42,775, experienced salary, $70,300 (median $61,150). Is it any wonder that Maryland colleges are not graduating enough education majors to fill the teaching jobs in this state? I'm not begrudging any of these professions the salaries they earn, just pointing out that teachers' salaries don't compare.

Compounding the problem is the paltry retirement teachers in Maryland have, with the teachers' pension system ranked 50th out of 50 states -- the worst in the nation. Teachers looking to secure their futures often have to leave education for jobs that have pensions they can live on. One of our members provided lawmakers with documentation to show he will collect a better pension for his part-time job as a grocery store clerk than he will from his regular teaching job when he retires. That is inexcusable.

One-fourth of our 1,700 teachers in Charles County will be eligible to retire in the next five years. Over 450 teachers in this county were hired in the last two years. Further, statistics show that after five years, there is a mass exodus of teachers into other jobs. Pretty soon, there will be no new teachers coming in and no experienced teachers to mentor them. So what are our elected officials doing to solve this problem? Not enough.

The state General Assembly passed a bill a three years ago, the Thornton "Bridge to Excellence" funding formula, a good start to proper state funding of public schools. But this year, due to disagreement on slots, taxes, fees and other sources of income, the Assembly adjourned with no mechanism to fund schools for next year and no way to overcome the projected deficits.

Even getting the Thornton money this year required intensive lobbying and a huge rally with teachers, parents, students and concerned citizens begging for money for the public schools. Although not openly, the governor has, in effect, held the Thornton money hostage to his proposal for slots -- no slots, no school money. And his latest proposal to pass the $900 million cost of teacher pensions off to the locals will sink the already poor teacher retirement system and strangle the counties' ability to provide money to schools for teacher salaries and materials of instruction (that cut would be $11 million for Charles County next year alone).

And as far as teacher workload is concerned, the state and federal mandates keep piling on, and nothing is ever taken off the teacher's plate. In 2003, the General Assembly passed a bill to study the teacher workload issue (Study Commission on Educators' Time and Paperwork. HB 873/SB 558). Gov. [Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr. (R)] vetoed the bill, refusing even to study the problem.

In the article, Levanduski stated "you get what you pay for." In fact, the taxpayers in this state have been getting more than they pay for a long time: a quality team of dedicated and skilled teachers working long hours to educate children because they care about them. But teachers have their own children and families to consider too, and other professions require less and pay more. The time is coming when you will indeed "get what you pay for" -- high class sizes and non-certificated teachers. Nickel and dime increases won't help -- it's time for our elected officials to take bold steps to pay all education employees, not just a select few, what they are worth. The cost will be high, but the cost of ignoring the problem will certainly be higher.

Meg MacDonald

UniServ Director, EACC/MSTA