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Letter: Scarsdale Could Save on Teachers Institute

SCARSDALE, N.Y. — TheDailyScarsdale.com accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be e-mailed to letters@thedailyscarsdale.com.

To the Editor,

I am writing with regard to the impending negotiations between the Scarsdale School District and the Scarsdale teachers union and, more specifically, regarding some of the clauses in the current contract relating to the Scarsdale Teachers Institute (STI). As a long-time village resident I appreciate that education is our local industry. I know that our outstanding educational results make Scarsdale an attractive and coveted village in which to reside. The challenge is to maintain this excellence while making it reasonably affordable for families who reside in the community.

During negotiations, I hope the following will be considered:

While the amount of the school budget allocated outright to the STI ($111,000 in the 2011-12 year plus the salary/benefits of the director of the STI) is a very small portion of the total Scarsdale school district budget, there are significant indirect costs to taxpayers that are not immediately visible. Teachers are able to earn appreciable raises by qualifying for new salary "lanes" after accumulating credits through STI courses without ever taking an accredited graduate school course once they have earned their master's degrees. Although Scarsdale does not permit newly hired teachers to include credits earned at other teacher centers when calculating entry-level salaries, it does not put any cap on the total number of STI credits that can be earned toward a new salary lane. Since the STI is not an accredited institution, credits awarded to teachers by the STI would not be recognized by most, if not all, other school districts.

An analysis of teachers who qualified for the MA+75 lane in September 2010 showed the following distribution: 259 teachers earned their MA+75; 69 earned all 75 credits at the STI; 44 earned 60-74 credits at the STI; 29 earned 45-59 credits at the STI; 49 earned 30-45 credits at the STI; 27 earned 15-30 credits at the STI; 21 earned 1-14 credits at the STI; 4 earned no credits at the STI; 16 could not be accounted for based on the handwritten cards provided by the district office.

Limiting the number of STI credits that can be applied toward a new lane would slow the rate of salary increases while asking teachers to invest in their own education and financial futures. Graduate courses (particularly at the middle and high school levels) in teachers' fields of study can also play a significant role in keeping teachers abreast of changes in their fields of study or deepening their knowledge.

Lane salary increases are in addition to "step" salary increases, which are automatically granted during the first 15 years of service, and longevity stipends beyond the initial 15 years. Moreover, all teachers receive a minimum COLA (cost of living allowance) of 3.25 percent each year. The cumulative effect of step, COLA, stipend and lane raises results in significant pension increases.

Long-term salary increases could be contained to a more reasonable level by requiring all newly hired teachers to enroll in a minimum number of STI courses (to be contractually determined) as a condition of employment at no cost to them and for no credit toward the next salary lane, while charging a slightly higher fee to faculty who receive credit towards new lanes. The current fee of $75 per STI credit is markedly below the market rate charged by neighboring colleges and universities.

When I was the principal of Pearl River High School in Rockland County, it was the practice of the district to require all newly hired teachers to attend a three-year program in order to acculturate them to the values of the district and to hone their teaching skills. Teachers were not paid to participate in this program, nor did they earn any credits toward moving into a new salary lane. This program was very successful and had a powerful impact on teaching and learning in the classroom.

Susan Grosz

Scarsdale resident Susan Grosz is a former teacher and high school administrator in Westchester and Rockland counties.

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