The seller's market

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 10:18 p.m.
Fringe benefits are nice, but to attract top teachers, Florida must pay salaries that are competitive with other states.
If Jeb Bush were CEO of Florida Inc., he would say that his company is searching for skilled employees in a "seller's market."
Florida the state, not the company, estimates it needs 32,000 new teachers by the beginning of the new academic year. Recruitment is going to be a big job.
One way to attract skilled employees in a seller's market is to pour on the fringe benefits. In that respect, the initiative that Gov. Jeb Bush announced this week shows promise.
Bush is asking the Legislature for what amounts to a $239 million fringe benefit package to help lure new teachers, with special emphasis, the governor says, on attracting the "best and brightest students to the teaching profession, especially subjects experiencing a critical shortage," like science and math.
As in any promotional effort, there is an element of razzle-dazzle. Bush wants to tap into new slot machine revenues to the tune of $188 million to buy laptop computers for every teacher as a paperwork reduction incentive.
Everybody likes high-tech gadgets.
And these days, it is the rare student who gets through college without running up thousands of dollars in loan obligations.
Bush wants to increase funding for the Critical Teacher Shortage Program - which pays off up to $10,000 in college loans for teachers in critical subject areas - from $1.8 million to $9.7 million.
Again, that should help a lot.
And to assist districts in recruiting and retention, Bush wants a $40 million matching grant program to help school boards offer signing bonuses, housing assistance and, again, college loan reduction payments.
So is all that enough? Probably not.
Fringe benefits help. But Florida's basic problem is that it ranks 29th in the nation in teacher pay. The average Florida teacher draws just over $40,000 a year, about $6,000 less than the national average.
"We're competing in a market where teachers can get better salaries by going elsewhere," Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel this week.
It's a seller's market, in other words. And any corporation knows that when it is in a seller's market, it must pay the going rate to compete for top talent.
But it seems the best Bush can do in that regard is to try to talk Floridians into abolishing the state's constitutional class-size mandate.
He wants to replace it with a new mandate that would require school districts to spend 65 percent of their operating revenues in the classroom.
In other words, districts would be obliged to fire cafeteria workers, guidance counselors and bus drivers in order to pump up teacher salaries.
Bush says the class-size mandate inflicts "artificial numbers" on districts. Isn't that exactly what the so-called "65 percent solution" would do?
Yes, exactly.

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