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A taxpayer group in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda school system has put the spotlight on the district's in-service training programs. There are two areas of concern: the nature of some of the classes and the compensation teachers get for taking them.

"Mickey Mouse stuff" is the label pinned on the classes by one leader of the Ken-Ton Concerned Taxpayers Association. In response, administrators insist that the classes help teachers deal with such things as new state educational standards, technological changes and social issues that find their way into the classroom. Yes, but the descriptions of some of the programs do indeed invite thoughts of a cartoon character with big ears and a long tail.

And then there's the question of compensation for the classes, which are taken outside the regular working hours, including summers, and are optional. Ken-Ton teachers who participate pay a single $200 yearly fee and get paid a hefty $100 for every hour of in-service training up to 20 hours a year. Administrators say that about 70 percent of the teachers go beyond 20 hours, getting no compensation for the excess. That's commendable. Even so, $100 an hour is overdoing it by a wide margin, especially because a good argument could be made for no compensation at all.

The Ken-Ton Staff Development Center offered 331 courses in the just-concluded school year, drawing 1,393 participants. The center director calls it nitpicking to challenge the worthiness of some of the courses, but is it?

"Self-Image -- Discover the Buried Treasure Within," "Developing Habits of Effectiveness" and "The Key to Managing and Cultivating Effective Relationships" sound fresh from the self-help section of the bookstore. Or maybe the motivational speaker circuit. Courses in traffic safety, pop-up books and job-changing skills also stir wonderment. What other employer pays its help good money to learn how to switch to another job?

The issue of in-service compensation is at least worth a debate. Ken-Ton officials say their policy of making one-shot hourly payments is less costly than some other school systems' habit of mingling in-service courses with regular college graduate credits to push teachers higher on the salary schedule.

Either way, paying professional people to take in-service programs to keep current in their line of endeavor is more than the taxpayers should have to do. A careful distinction must be made here. It's true that every teacher's pay is conditioned, in part, by college degrees and course credits. Presumably such academic endeavors involve theses, tests, written reports and final grades, all to measure performance and accomplishment. On the other hand, in-service workshops and courses run by school districts carry no such hurdles. Simple attendance is all that counts.

Taxpayers should not have to pay people to be there.

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