AUGUSTA — Mrs. Pare had oversized glasses, big red hair and the ability to inspire her students. She always had a smile on her face and loved her job at Gilbert Elementary School in Augusta. The kids in Mrs. Pare’s class were lucky – I was one of those kids.

Growing up in Maine and attending public schools, I received an outstanding education, and it was due to my teachers. Maine has many incredible teachers like Mrs. Pare, but for decades they have been shortchanged by contracts that don’t truly reward them. That is why I have sponsored L.D. 864, “An Act to Provide for a Statewide Contract for School Teachers.” The bill will authorize the state of Maine to bargain for a statewide educator contract for standard salary and benefits in Maine’s public schools, giving us the opportunity to put more money into the classroom – where it belongs.

In 2004, the people of Maine directed the Legislature to fund 55 percent of K-12 public education expenses. Today, teaching costs are over 59 percent of state education spending, which means that funding a statewide contract will finally get us over 55 percent and truly benefit Maine students.

Among the benefits:

 First, a statewide contract offers the potential for cost savings. Health care costs are one of the most expensive aspects of many contracts across the state. By having all teachers under one contract, we will gain economies of scale and diversified actuarial pools allowing us to bargain for better rates and better benefits.

 Second, a statewide contract will enable rural school districts to pay higher salaries and offer better benefits, providing a pathway to attract, reward and retain great educators. This will create equity, ensuring all Maine students have access to high-quality education.

 Third, a statewide contract will allow a new opportunity to introduce provisions that will generate better education outcomes, ensuring our students are getting the best possible education to prepare them to be successful after graduation.

 Fourth, a statewide contract will save local school districts the time and money spent on negotiations, allowing superintendents and school board members to focus on making decisions that enrich the student experience in the district instead of countless hours negotiating salary and benefits for educators.

The national average for teachers’ salaries is $58,064. For New England, that average is significantly higher, at $70,067. In Maine, we are behind, at $50,229; in rural Maine, it is much lower. While a $50,000 salary may seem high to some, this average includes many senior, seasoned teachers, close to retirement, which will leave schools scrambling to find new teachers.

We need competitive starting salaries to attract the best and the brightest to become new teachers and shape our future generations. For decades we have had a fragmented approach to negotiating salary and benefits on a district-by-district basis. The results have been inequitable student outcomes across Maine, and low pay for some of the best teachers.

Having a statewide contract gives us the opportunity to make sure that teachers in all districts across Maine get paid better. The bill as written would still allow local school districts to negotiate salary above the levels set forward by the state, but that would be a local decision.

For those in Maine who want to fund education at 55 percent, the supporters of this legislation want to make sure that those state funds go into the classroom and pay teachers, who are at the heart of educating our kids. Instead of pouring money into a complex funding formula that no one understands and often has distorted impacts, let’s make sure our state education funding pays for great teachers.

My wife, Heather, and I recently began talking about starting a family. Right now we just have Oliver, a 2-year-old pup with loads of energy and a ton of personality – we love that little guy. Someday, though, we hope to have children and enroll them in Maine public schools that have unrivaled teachers.

As taxpayers, we want to know that the money we send to the state will be creating that future by putting money where it belongs, in the classroom. It is time to pay our teachers to be the most effective educators they can be. Our children deserve it, and our future depends on it.