Saturday, February 1, 2014

Teachers deserve a pay cut?

Budget votes are coming.

'Tis the season for letting people go (RIF - Reduction in Force) and for the general public to vote on the school budget and to elect someone to the open slot on the school board. The community is very close to the process here in the Great Northeast, but this direct involvement doesn't mean our citizens are any more well-informed than yours are.

The local real estate group is bitching about how incredibly expensive taxes are up here, and how the costs of schools are skyrocketing. "We should fund schools by income taxes instead of property taxes; and then we should cut taxes!"

Before you nod your head like a bobblehead doll, consider that Vermont has no industry to speak of in these little towns. The only money available to pay for schools is in land. The wealthy second and third home owners would LOVE this change ... because they have no income in Vermont. Boom, there goes 30% of the tax base.

The leaders in Montpelier have little to offer this whole debate except complaints that people are voting in budget increases they're not responsible for, which is kind of silly, since voters make enough noise you have to accept that they know exactly who's paying for it. They do have a proposal, which I'll include in its entirety:
The mayors want the state to create an education cost reduction commission that would have the administrative authority to seek consolidation of schools and districts, Hollar said. Any savings could be reinvested in pre-k education.
So that's not solving much. I find it interesting that they'd like to combine districts and schools ... forgetting that doing so is already in the plans where it's feasible, but that's not very many places. In Vermont, it's just too difficult to close a lot of these small schools. The town of Plymouth, for example, continued operating its school for several years even though it had fewer than a dozen students.

This is not teaching.
You can't replace teachers with technology.
There are, of course, options. Maybe we could close the schools and switch entirely to online education. Judging by what I've seen on these Internets, English grammar and writing ability is not necessary for adults. Nor, apparently, are research skills or mathematics.

Okay, seriously. The big deal du jour is that the teachers are asking for a contract. Again, before you go and decide that this is a big deal, consider:

  • How many of you are willing to work without one? Didn't think so.
  • Yes, it's a multi-year contract, but we sign on the dotted line every year. From the teacher's perspective, it's a one-year contract, renewed each year. From the school's perspective, it's a known quantity that allows for intelligent budget decisions.
  • Teachers want a long-term contract so they don't have to deal with the negotiations mess again for a while. That only means that everyone will know what's what. They already agree on the terms and percents - this is about the paperwork that goes with it. How stupid is that?
  • Teachers asked for a raise. So? Everyone wants a raise and most people are getting one because the CPI is steadily increasing at 2.5%. 

So, about that money

Why should teachers meekly take a paycut, anyway? Do you renegotiate your wages up or down every year based on the whims of a petulant population? If a company in any other business is losing money this year, all salaries aren't cut ... that would be suicide.  All of the people would leave.

If the company is going down the tubes, sometimes everyone accepts a cut or sometimes the company closes.

Big, Bad Unions

Unions are supposed to look out for their members. This one is doing what it can. You might not like it, but that's too bad.

The flip side:
  • The teachers are NOT allowed to negotiate on an individual basis: The great ones can't get a signing bonus and the math or computer wizard you desperately need can't be lured in with cash or benefits or anything. 
  • That engineering major science teacher gets the same deal as the education major teaching history or the PE teacher -- and the salary schedule is set for the education major, not the engineering degree. 
  • The state requires that teachers join the union ($550/year) or pay the agency fee ($450) if they don't.  That's the law. Doesn't make sense, does it? That's the way it works in this state. 
  • Can't work without a license, either. Can't get one without jumping through the hoops. That's not the NEA, that's the State.

Limited mobility

So why not quit and work elsewhere if you're unhappy with your contract? You can't. The state has rules about that, too. You lose your license if you quit after you've signed your contract for the year.

On top of that, unlike all other jobs, this one has a very limited hiring season. Miss it and your chances of being hired drop to almost nil.  You are basically praying that someone else left their job first.

Joining a school after it begins is likewise very difficult for all involved - it's almost better to continue for 7 months with a loser than try to change mid-year.

As a result, teachers tend to stay - fortunately, because those who stay maintain the school, its traditions and its culture.


If teachers leave anyway, are there any qualified candidates for teachers showing up when the jobs are advertised? Not really. When you advertise, you get literally hundreds of people clicking on the "submit" button. Of that, maybe ten are minimally qualified and of those, you hope the one you like will take the job.

We aren't doing anything special, so we're not "heroes" or any of that rot. We don't need accolades, but it'd be nice to acknowledge us. We're not going to grovel at the feet of the local paper's forums and I won't give thanks for every paycheck because I earned it dealing with a difficult job that very few people are able to do, fewer are willing to do and fewer still understand.

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