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By Hoppy Kercheval in Hoppy's Commentary | February 28, 2014 at 12:17AM

West Virginia’s public school teachers are going to end up with a pay raise out of this legislative session.  It will be a modest one, either two percent or $837 across the board.

WVEA President Dale Lee has been pushing for the dollar amount as opposed to the percentage because it would have more impact on starting salaries which, according to figures from the National Education Association, are $32,500.*

That’s more than $4,000 below the national average for starting salaries and lower than all neighboring states.  Teacher organizations always point to the starting salaries in Maryland ($43,235) and Virginia ($37,848) for comparison.  It’s worth noting, however, that first year teacher pay in Ohio ($33,096) and Kentucky ($35,161) are pretty close to ours.

The WVEA’s goal is to raise starting salaries to $43,000 by 2019.  That’s an awfully large step, and probably unrealistic, especially considering the 2016 fiscal year budget  is expected to be at least as tight as the budget lawmakers are working on now for the 2015 year starting July 1st.

Our teachers should be paid more, but not the way the unions want to do it.   West Virginia will find it difficult to keep pace with neighboring states and entice young people to get into the profession by insisting that everyone is paid the same, regardless of performance, teaching specialty, and location.

Educators and state leaders should consider options like locality pay (more pay in school districts that have a higher cost of living) and  bonus pay for hard to fill positions.   For example, if a Mercer County school needs a certified physics teacher, why shouldn’t the school board be empowered to pay more to hire a qualified instructor?

The result would be a teacher better equipped to prepare students, which is, after all, the goal of education.

Teachers play a critical role in our state. Their jobs are increasingly demanding, from the bureaucracy to behavioral problems among their students, to the demands of preparing children who have varying levels of aptitude and desire. Those who are tackling the challenge with passion and generating successful outcomes should be paid be more, but our current system is not set up to reward them.

The teacher organizations are correct that the base salaries need to increase, and the public policy makers can determine that, but for great teachers and in-demand instructors to make real money, these same organizations must drop the across-the-board approach and embrace more creative salary structures.

Otherwise, every year the teacher groups will be back trolling the halls of the Capitol, trying to convince lawmakers to give every teacher a small increase, which will never solve the pay problem.

*NEA teacher salary figures for 2012-2013.