Our teachers are pissed.
Not long ago, a bar graph of teacher salaries across the county was displayed for our district's Board of Education. The graph showed the mean salary of each district from highest to lowest. Our district was the lowest. So now our teachers (and their union) are negotiating with the district for a salary increase. Seems normal enough.
Here's what, as I see it, is not so normal. Of the eleven or so districts in our county there are only two that are "basic aid" districts (which means that our funding doesn't come from the state based on attendance; we get ours from all the local property taxes in our district--you gotta wonder why we even care about attendance), and ours is one. The other basic aid district was on the OTHER side of the bar graph. I don't get that, unless we're really doing weird things with the money. The other abnormality I see is that the teachers' union isn't doing all that good a job at the bargaining table. As one teacher put it, their union reps are arguing over "whether to bend over a little, or bend over a lot."
Then, of course, there's the argument that lower salaries drive away the quality teachers. True, we've seen a lot of turnover in the last few years, and I'm sure (now that it's been translated into a graph and all) that salaries have something to do with it. I'm reading a biography of Walt Disney--a really good one--and there was a point at which Disney was frustrated by the economics of his studio: early on, he made high quality films and almost lost his shirt doing it; later, he had to lessen the quality to make the pictures profitable (or at least break even). Oddly enough, this happened not long after his studio cartoonists unionized.
Quality costs. If the district wants to keep quality teachers, it may have to choose them over flashy technology improvements and specialized academies.