Sunday, March 6, 2011

Soapbox: The Value of Teachers

Teachers are public employees.  Our salaries are drawn from school districts whose funding comes from the state.  While most people assume that property taxes from within the district are directly responsible for the funding, it is not entirely accurate.  The property tax money goes to the state, and then the state determines how much of it to return.  Not all of the money raised through property values comes back to every district and some districts receive more money than they raise.
Yesterday, I posted a link on facebook to a story done by John Stewart on the Daily Show comparing the efforts to railroad teachers to how the conservative media seemed to protect both the high income earners from the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and Wall Street CEO bonuses.  I only received one response to the post, but the comment caused me to reflect on my own situation.  Am I, through some unreasonable expectation of a pension, willingly participating in bankrupting my state?  Is my expectation of compensation for my work efforts and societal contributions ridiculously exaggerated? 
For reference to the original story, follow this link:
After thinking about my friend’s comment and what it might imply about myself, I thought to explore exactly what my pension would be like.  Texas has a retirement system that allows me to retire when my age plus my years of service equals 90.  For me, that will be when I am 58 and have taught for 32 years.  Your benefit is 80% of the average of your five highest paid years.  In the last year I would teach, assuming I earn a 3% yearly raise (which is probably not likely this year with the state cutting education funding by 15%),  I would be making just over $100,000 per year.  Now, while this sounds like a lot of money, this will also be 2038, and inflation will have reduced the real value of that number.  My retirement benefit would amount to $77,000 per year.  Sounds great, right?  Well, if inflation continues at the projected rate, it will be equivalent to $38,000 per year in today’s dollars.  This is quite a reward to look forward to.  In fact, it will be almost 20% less than I made my first year teaching.  My friend’s last comment was that “no one becomes a teacher to get rich, right?”  Well, I don’t think anyone could suggest that a retirement package of $38,000 per year is even close to “rich.”
In Texas, teachers do not participate in Social Security.  We do not contribute to the fund, and unless we have done something else over the years, we do not earn points towards any sorts of benefits.  Most districts do not provide 401(k) plans and if they do, there is no contribution.  Some districts provide a 403(b) or a 457, but once again, the contributions are solely ours.
In the last ten years, retired Texas teachers have not seen a cost of living increase in their benefit.  Social Security, on the other hand, has increased the benefit of retirees 31% over the last decade.  
So, lets change gears.  How am I paid?  I receive a salary, a stipend for extra duties, and a stipend for having a masters, equalling approximately $56,000 per year.  My contract is for 187  eight hour work days during the year.  This equals approximately $37 per hour for my efforts.  I went through my year, the hours I have worked since August 1 and the projected hours I will work through July 31.  My hourly wage changes to $24 with the actual hours I work.  This accounts for time spent at school, time spent in buses, time at football games and parades, time at contests and performances, time on band trips, time at conferences, time at camps, etc.  This does not account for hours spent at home preparing for the work week, lesson planning, score studying, listening to records, watching marching videos.
Teaching has been on Forbes’ list of top ten respected professions in the country for quite some time now.  I wish those who are calling for education budget cuts would consider what it is that teachers bring to our society.  While it is obvious that teachers provide a babysitting service to parents needing to work, they provide so much more than most people realize.  
Teachers reduce jail population.  The government monitors reading levels in third grade class rooms as a way to prepare for prison populations.  Identifying the literacy levels of 8 year olds gives the government ten years to prepare for the newly adult convicts.  Studies have shown that as literacy increases, the crime rate is reduced.  The current budget will shrink teacher roles and increase the number of students per class as teachers are let go.  This reduces the impact each teacher can have, increasing the possibility of kids falling through the cracks.  More and more of our young students will slide to the level the government identifies as being at risk, spurring the creation of more prison space.  I am not sure this is the kind of job creation our state has in mind.
Additionally, as student teacher ratio rises, the impact on student performance drops.  Our students will be less prepared for advanced study as they approach the end of their public education.  Less will make it to college, and out of those, less will continue on into higher degrees.  This means a decrease in the financial impact our current students will have when they enter the work force leading to a further decrease in tax income for the state.
My district, which is ranked number two in the state for fiscal responsibility and academic achievement, will be facing a budget reduction of $60 million for next year from the state.  Currently, there are no plans to reduce employees through lay offs, but we are in a hiring freeze.  Some teachers will have to transfer campuses, and some positions will disappear, but no one will lose their job.  We are lucky.  A district to the south recently announced a staff reduction of 20%.
Many districts are cutting after school programs, music programs, extra- and co- curricular activities, unnecessary extra transportation, substitutes and substitute pay, paraprofessional pay and positions, administrative positions, and support staff.  No one is expecting a raise this year and some have been told to expect pay reductions.  
It is amazing that a society that regards teachers as one of the top ten respected professions so quickly resorts to cutting their jobs and resources.  I understand that the budget is the budget, and money doesn’t appear out of the air, but the future impact of these budget cuts is going to be significant.  In the end, if you are concerned about the future of this country, please contact your local representatives and make sure they are standing on the side of education.  Sure, there are certainly areas of our funding that need to be fixed, but lets make sure everyone is educated on the implications before taking these steps.

As a closing, I would like everyone to consider the words of Taylor Mali.  This video has made the rounds on the internet, but I think it is something everyone should see.  Mr. Mali certainly hits the nail on the head.  

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