Losing teachers to the mainland

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To the Editor: 

Having been an Island resident for 30 years and a math and science educator at the West Tisbury School for 28 of them, I have seen six superintendents and an equal number of principals at the school come and go. Arguably, during that time, it’s primarily the teachers and other staff who’ve been the consistent glue and staunch defenders of the education of Vineyard children. Six years ago, my wife mentored an excellent and most promising young math teacher who had to leave the Island due to insufficient pay. As a math specialist, she became invaluable to staff, and a joy to students. Even so, my wife Ann Nelson, another Island math specialist, confessed to her, “If you desire a future where you can hope to have a home, raise a family, and build savings, you should consider teaching on the mainland.” Soon afterward she heeded our advice, and has since married, bought a home, and started a family. She’s a math teacher an hour from Woods Hole, with a salary similar to what she’d earn on M.V.

Island teacher pay has my wife and me considering teaching at one of several Bay State districts where the cost of living is significantly less, yet whose comparable teaching positions would afford us a 8 to 12 percent salary boost. Affordable housing or subsidized rentals make it nearly impossible for teachers to build their wealth, more likely making them brief members of our community, or guaranteeing them a Vineyard life of financially scraping by, all other things being equal. Some time ago, teachers with no financial aid or speakable assets, such as my wife and I, could move to the Island, purchase a home (not subsidized, and thereby limited in value growth potential) and thrive on teachers’ salaries. That time has passed. Teachers’ salaries on M.V. have lagged far behind rising costs on the Island; and now, even the inadequate pay raise the teacher’s union has most recently proposed to the representatives of the towns has been refused. If the offer had been accepted, Chilmark and Edgartown residents’ property taxes, two of the lowest rates in the nation, would increase, and continue being the lowest in the nation. I’m reminded of Andrew Carnegie’s compensation ethics for his workers.

Has this economic change for Vineyard teachers decreased the quality of education on the Island over the past 15 years? From my view, it surely has, and I posit, with close examination, that it’s not the fault of teachers. There was a time when it was more difficult to get a Vineyard teaching position, and many applicants for any position were more commonplace. Ask your school principal — the pool of high-quality applicants has been choked to those with Island connections and family-subsidized housing. Most young, talented applicants with financial savvy and an eye to the future wouldn’t apply. Some Vineyarders may say, “Let the teachers commute.” Many do; however, it’s a wet blanket thrown on our teachers feeling like valued members of our community — few attitudes smack of such elitist privilege. I struggle to believe — I don’t want to believe — that most Vineyarders have the same attitude as the individuals on the towns’ bargaining team, whose shortsightedness, lack of reason, and questionable bona fides have temporarily robbed the wind from teachers’ sails. Tisbury School needs an overhaul to the tune of $81.8 million in taxpayer funds? Providing Island teachers a COLA in line with inflation and the cost to live on the Island should be each town’s first priority.

 

Karl Nelson
Edgartown