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updated: 7/6/2011 6:18 PM

What's a fair wage for a good teacher?

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

On Sunday, the Daily Herald published the results of a study that staff writer Larissa Chinwah undertook examining the salaries of the 14,217 public school teachers employed by the 89 school districts in area suburbs. The headline asked the question: "$191,214 salary -- for a high school teacher?"

That number is shocking. Granted, most area teachers do not approach that amount of compensation. But more than 10 percent make $100,000 or more.

Quality teaching is important, and suburban schools are blessed with teachers who care, inspire and educate. All of us who cherish education cherish those teachers, and we want them to be adequately compensated.

But the plain truth is education also must be affordable to the community or, ultimately, it won't be sustainable. And that would be unfair to everyone -- teachers, students and taxpayers.

The good news is that while Chinwah's analysis focused on why and how some teachers in the 2009-10 school year received six-figure salaries, it also showed the median salary for the teachers in our area was $68,377.

That is a much more realistic number -- one that fairly pays teachers without unfairly burdening taxpayers.

Teachers often work hours that would make a nine-to-fiver wilt. We understand and appreciate that. The top-paid teachers in our study achieved such sums by packing on additional duties like coaching that had them working year round in many cases.

But big end-of-career salaries also have led to big rest-of-life pensions.

And pensions must be sustainable too.

Are we likely to see a lot more of these unaffordable salaries in the years to come? Hopefully not.

The General Assembly recognized the problem and passed important reforms. One of them made changes to the retirement system to now limit pay increases to 6 percent per year for a teacher's final four years.

When former Stevenson High School football coach and physical education teacher Bill Mitz and others in the top 10 highest-paid teachers in our analysis announced their retirements, that limit had allowed for 20 percent bumps for each of the final two years of their careers.

We wouldn't be writing this editorial had we not been assigned teachers who instilled in us an appreciation for the English language, an understanding of civics, a thirst for learning about the world around us and a sense of fairness.

More importantly, you wouldn't be able to read this without the aid of good teachers along the way.

The purpose of teaching is to educate the community. We highly value that role. After all, it's the responsibility of any newspaper too.