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A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How much should public school teachers earn?

My Feb. 24 article on the West Chester Area School Board's recent reaction to the PSERS crisis led a number of online commentors to debate how much public school teachers ought to be paid. This is not surprising - the teacher pay debate arises nearly every time we write an article that touches on school district budgets.

Since the article appeared, I've also gotten a number emails about teachers pay - one person, who was unhappy with how high teachers' pensions are, told me: "I hope that you live and own in one of the districts that your property and earned income taxes make you realize that owners are now renters."

I, too, wish I earned enough to be able to buy a house.

Anyway, there is a vocal collection of commentors who think public school teachers should be earning far less than they are now earning. And the tenor of their comments hints that that they don't think teaching public school is a very respectable profession.

So, how much should public school teachers earn? And, is teaching public school a respectable profession? These are not rhetorical questions. I invite you to answer them by leaving comments under this blog post.

Below is a sampling of the teacher pay related comments that my Feb. 24 article generated.

wcnative wrote on Feb 24, 2010 11:09 AM: "Pay for public employees whose jobs are rarely at risk for layoffs used to be somewhat lower than equivalent private-sector jobs, because of that job security. That is no longer true for many, many public employees, especially teachers, who enjoy great pay, great benefits, and generous paid time off. Teachers should think how this looks to continue to demand pay and benefits that are out of line with those of the taxpayers."

realnews wrote on Feb 24, 2010 2:31 PM: "wcnative: What teacher gets generous paid time off? As I know it teachers are contracted to work a set number of days. You might be confused of their time off when they are not under contract and are not being paid. The only reason many teachers receive pay checks in the summer is because they have allowed the districts to withhold money during the year instead of receiving their fully earned compensation."

MisterWoo wrote on Feb 24, 2010 3:30 PM: "Withhold salary or not, the fact remains that the typical middle/high school teacher in PA is grossly overpaid. If the system were fair, they'd all be required to start paying money back to the state upon retirement."

nomorecville wrote on Feb 25, 2010 12:28 PM: "right out of college and you can make $40K per year, who is complaining that that is not enough money for a 22 year old."

[Side note: If public schools were funded solely by a personal income tax, much of this bitterness might go away. Even better - for the purposes of my argument - if local school districts lost the power to tax. If the state collected school taxes at an even rate from all Pennsylvania residents, and then gave local districts a flat amount of money for each pupil they taught, the debate over school taxes would change completely. No one would complain about being "taxed out" of expensive districts, public schools in Philadelphia and Lower Merion would have the same amount of money to spend per pupil, and all Pennsylvanians would be in this together. That would be my comment, if I left comments.]

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Anonymous Bill said...

There seems to an element of "If my life sucks, yours should too" about this issue. Maybe if the most vociferous complainers organized unions, like the teachers have, they too could have a better deal?

I always thought that property taxes were a bad way to fund schools, and that income taxes would be fairer over the typical life-cycle. A person's ability to contribute would more easily conform to their means, and most families would pay litle when just starting out, do the bulk of their "payments" while they had children in school, and pay little when in retirement.. No one would be in danger of being taxed out of their homes at toward the end of their life, and you wouldn't have the anomalies in taxation caused by infrequent re-assessment as is the present case.(Where a taxes on an older mansion are less then on the new bungalow built just across the street. )

The main reason to retain property taxes is to tax business having several locations. In that case, a business could evade school taxes by artful accounting, assigning income to operations in low tax jurisdictions, (or overseas) regardless of where income is actually earned.

February 26, 2010 2:33 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many jobs in the public sector have salary caps. I see no reason why teacher & other unions can't have the same thing.
Again in the public sector, employees are required to contribute to health benefits and pensions.
Most people that I've talked to agree that teachers provide a vital service, but see no reason why the public must fund all of the benefits that they enjoy.
I agree that there needs to be a full review of how the funds for school districts are raised. To continue to tax people who are retired, or who never had children, on into perpetuity at constantly increasing rates is not sustainable.

February 26, 2010 10:35 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've thought about the vitriolic outbursts toward teachers, teacher salaries, and pensions of late. Many years ago, teachers were lucky to make 20K a year to be entrusted with the responsibility for molding and shaping the minds of our most valuable commodity; our children. Never, during this point in history, did we, as a people, engage in the teacher-bashing that has become a regular part of the 24 hour news cycle. The reason being that teachers were merely viewed as high-priced baby sitters.

Today, the stakes are much higher and more is expected of teachers. The Republican enacted "No Child Left Behind," has raised the bar for students and teachers. With a greater stake in the global economy our kids must be academically ready to compete with children from advancing countries around the world. With this as a goal, the vocation of teacher has taken on a whole new meaning.

Years ago, I remember hearing a friend pose the question, "why do professional baseball players make so much money and teachers make so little and assume so much responsibility?" Yet many of those who vociferously opine about taxes and teacher salaries think nothing of spending $100.00 for a ticket to a professional baseball game.

Why is it that we seek to apply the lowest common denominator when we apply the formula for compensating those that will care for and educate our children? Yes, accountability measures must be implemented to weed out poor performers but, not at the cost of demonizing all teachers. What is the cost for "not" providing adequate compensation for those we entrust with the care and education of our children.

February 27, 2010 6:02 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Teachers should earn a living wage according to their classes achievements and their total education prior to coming to the school district - check the state standards. When it comes to retirement - the teacher should be required to live within the school district during and for the same amount of time spent teaching in order to get retirement benefits. This is one way they would appreciate their retirement benefits and get a taste of how much is needed to insure this amount is there when needed.

March 1, 2010 3:12 PM 
Blogger Dan Kristie said...

To Anonymous Number Three: All teachers live in school districts and pay school taxes. They may not live where they teach, but their tax dollars go into the same state retirement fund that your tax dollars go into. And, teachers contribute part of their pay to the fund. Since PSERS is a state fund, it should matter very little where the teachers live: as long as they're in Pennsylvania, their property taxes help to fund it. You act as if your school taxes are more burdensome than the teachers' school taxes. Prove it. (This is not to say PSERS is not in serious trouble. Rather, it's to say that you're focusing on the wrong thing.)

To Anonymous Number One: Not sure what you mean. Teachers jobs have salary caps, in the sense that their contract clearly spells out the maximum amount they will make. It's not as if teachers are randomly given raises - quite the opposite. Once teachers are strapped in to a contract, their salaries are predetermined, no matter how good or bad they are at teaching. Good teachers don't make more. Bad teachers don't make less. And a bad teacher with a masters and ten years of experience makes far more than a good teacher with a bachelors and five years of experience. As for medical benefits, etc, yes - teachers, as well as other union members, have a good deal.

To Bill: You touch on a much larger problem. There's a lot of "if my life sucks, yours should too" in our society. A close relative is: "Some people have it worse, so I shouldn't complain." I believe "Some people have it worse, so I shouldn't complain" is a highly destructive attitude. Basically, it's an excuse to resign yourself to your conditions and never try to improve your life. "Some people have it worse" can devolve quickly into "Given the suffering in the world, nobody, including myself, should be audacious enough to ask for better."

March 3, 2010 10:14 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's Look at the TOP
Do we really need 500 school districts in the state of PA? Many states have regionalized. This means 500 superintendents at an avg. salary alone of 150000. Do the math=90mil a year in salary, not benefits, or "BONUSES". Since when was education a for profit, bonus incentive profession? Bonuses are for business not education! REad up on your district's superintendent's contract. You would be appalled and shocked. That is how a lot of your tax dollars are being spent! Google their name, if you even know it, and you should, they are spending your tax dollars.
So, if we dropped down to 100 districts and regionalized we could potentially save statewide 40mil a year in salaries. Add in all of the benefits and bonuses and deferred compensation, and you have quite a savings.
Stop going after the teachers, programs, etc. The ones in the trenches are the ones that deserve fair and justifiable compensation.
Teachers do not have their summers off. Most spend them supplementing income or continuing their education in order to be current and deliver the best education for our students.

March 5, 2010 5:41 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PSERS is in trouble because of poor planning on our elected officials years ago. Teachers are mandated to contribute to the fund by 7.5%, and the majority of us do live in the area and pay real estate taxes to our local district. We are not asking for something for nothing. This is not a good time for many people, but when these trying economic times begin to hit the public sector, that is serious stuff. Budgets that are out of control in school districts are not out of control because of the PSERS fund contributions, it is b/c of lack of prudent spending on things that don't directly impact education. Let us once again look to the top. In big business over the last 18 months there was an outcry to ask Wall street to give up bonuses and sweet deals....should we not ask the same of our superintendents and asst. superintendents and other district administrators? It is real easy to go for biggest pond of fish but I suggest we look somewhere else first for ways to cut back and defray these shortfalls.

March 5, 2010 12:25 PM 

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