which is becoming more and more of an issue. It affects a lot of teachers in my district. It is increasingly an issue that comes up when teachers in my building speak to me as union rep. And as I struggle to pay my own bills, it begins to hit home. Hard.
What is really painful for many of us is that it looks to only be getting worse.
Let me explain briefly, so that before you make comments about greedy teachers, or attack them and their unions, or anything else not particularly constructive, you have some sense of what many of us face.
I teach in Prince George's County (MD) Public Schools. Those of us who are National Board Certified are supposed to receive $5,000 additional in pay from the school system, with $2,000 of that being matched by the state.
Last Spring we knew that the school system was in financial difficulties. We were originally told that most of us would be furloughed without pay for 5 days (later reduced to 4). One reason our union signed on to Race to the Top was the hope to get additional funds into the district to help us.
What was not clear, although some are claiming the possibility was mentioned, was that a series of stipends for additional qualifications might be eliminated. Thus when the first paycheck was received, not only were people missing the local stipend for National Board Certification - which calculated over the normal 21 regular pay cycles for those on 10th month contracts is a gross amount of $238.00 - some were minus the stipend for having a doctorate or the stipend for being qualified for special education or in a few cases both.
Not having had this clearly communicated meant many teachers found themselves somewhat strapped: too many of us really have no margin for error in paying our bills. Some had made commitments budgeting on what they thought they were going to receive, and now are not getting, which makes it worse.
Further, we have had no cost of living increases, and all movements on step for longevity are also frozen. Meanwhile our expenses continue to rise - health insurance premiums deducted from our pay are increasing. Everyday expenses go up - has anyone paid attention to the increasing costs of both gasoline and food?
Teachers are required to continue their education in order to maintain certification. At this point there basically is no reimbursement for such expenses, and one has to hope that one reaches the 2% of adjusted gross income for misc. expenses in order to be able to deduct at least part of that for taxable income.
But now, at least in our district, looking ahead to next year - if we as teachers can financially get through this year - is downright scary.
We did not have layoffs this school year, in part because the County shifted funds as a result of the stimulus money it received to help us pay our bills. That was over $70 million, which will not be there next year.
The state is trying to shift the employer's portion of our pensions on to the school districts, and to change the ratio of match - the first puts further stress on the district for funds it does not have, and the second could mean more deducted from our paychecks. And as of right now our district just at current rates of expenditures is looking at a possible shortfall of $80 million. Since a large portion of our costs are personnel related, there is the very real possibility this will lead to elimination of positions, including teacher slots. Some of this will come about as the normal number of retirements and resignations occurs without replacing people. The new County Executive has publicly committed to do all he can to avoid actually having to lay off or further furlough employees.
Yet the reality is that property values in the County continue to decline at the same time as our student population looks to be increasing as parents can no longer afford tuition for non-public schools. We worry that beyond our individual financial difficulties, our class sizes will increase signicantly next year, with all that means for being less effective in instruction and for students in learning.
For myself? I find I am not alone among some of the older teachers. I am having to cash out my 403B to stay even - since I am over 59.5 I do not pay a penalty, merely the taxes on the money I receive. But what about when that is gone, the expenses continue to go up, and our pay remains frozen? Some families have two teachers, with the impact that has. My wife is a federal employee, whose pay is frozen for two years - no COLA, no step increases.
Life becomes more and more circumscribed by financial difficulties. The actual reduction of my gross pay this school year is around 8,000. As one of the higher paid teachers that hits me less heavily than national board teachers with much less service, where that alone could well equal 15% of their pay. Compared to what I should have been making, with COLAs and steps, the difference is well over 10K, which I assure is substantially more than 10%.
I know. I should not complain. As an experienced teacher with a good record I am not in danger of having no job. I am aware of members of this community who have been unemployed for substantial periods of time, some exceeding any time limit on Unemployment Compensation.
But it is hard as one struggles with bills each month, as one looks at what else can be cut, to remind oneself how much worse it could be.
Do I apply to do a panel for NN11? I have had people ask me. But even if as a panelist the registration fee were waived, how can I justify the transportation, lodging and food expenses?
There are things I'd like to do during the summer. But might not I again have to teach summer school - if we have it - because I desperately need the extra income just to get through?
I understand there are many good movies. How do I justify that expense, or going to a concert?
We just had our 25th anniversary. The best we could afford to do was a meal at a moderate family restaurant.
Yesterday was shopping day. A local supermarket gives me 5% discount (except on alcohol) because I am a senior citizen (over 62). We have to buy bargain brands, and even with discounts and bargain prices we are beginning to see our diet become more restricted - food is getting too expensive.
I look at my own situation, our situation, and I worry. There is not much left we can eliminate, yet things we must have continue to increase in price.
Then I look around me, in my communities, physical and virtual, and I wonder when as a society we are going to recognize that we are in a real crisis, that real people are being crushed, yet some debate philosophical points rather than meeting the needs of people.
I will be attached because I am a greedy teacher. Trust me, I get emails attacking me on a regular basis - it comes with the territory of being as visible as I am in writing online.
All public employees will be attacked, for our supposedly "gold-plated" pensions, even though such pensions were part of the agreement for being willing to work for less compensation than many could have gotten doing other things.
I am not a good example. We spent too much when we could have had better control, and some of our financial stress is therefore our own fault.
But what about the younger people? What about those gifted and dedicated teachers who will find themselves forced out by the financial realities of the life of a teacher, in our district, where we have worked hard to upgrade the quality of our teaching staff? What then happens to our students?
It is not quite 7 AM. It is the last day of the school week. I will pack a lunch - some fruit and some hard-boiled eggs, cheap, relatively healthy and definitely inexpensive. I will get into my paid-off hybrid Honda which is approaching 100K miles, "hyper-miling" when I drive to save expenses. Not ordinary pleasures like stopping at a Starbucks - their prices just went up. I will make some changes to my deductions to better have a bit more cash in each paycheck. The bills that have to be paid are paid, the projected cash flow seems sufficient to get us through the end of the month, providing we do not encounter an unexpected emergency. Because we no longer have any reserves.
I know, we are better off than many. But I also know this. I love teaching. But if someone were to offer me employment that is not distasteful that would pay near what I make as a teacher, it would be hard not to accept and also increase my cash flow by retiring at the end of this year. That pension is not large, but doing that might well reduce our financial strain. No job could give me as much satisfaction as I obtain from teaching, even with the hours and energy it takes.
Yes, I find I now have to consider the possibility of leaving teaching, for financial reasons.
This is my 16th year. Those who read my posts know how important teaching is to me.
If I am considering leaving teaching, think how many others, with less time committed to the career, might be. Think how many who might otherwise want to teach who look at the prospects for the next few years and decide they are not willing to take that on.
We will spend billions on testing, which will not show meaningful improvement, because class sizes will continue to grow, because quality teachers will decide that between the stress, the abuse directed in our direction and the financial strains, it is simply not worth killing oneself.
The country will suffer, because the children will suffer.
How's that for some pleasant thoughts with which to approach the weekend?