Cuts to Education and Teachers Salaries: Voting Day

Today is Voting Day for education in New Jersey. All day, I’ve seen a steady stream of Facebook statuses from teachers:

… is urging everyone to vote YES on the school budget!!!!!!!!

… a reminder to bloomfield residents…vote! vote yes for Foley field!

… Don’t forget to support our schools and vote yes to pass the budget!

… Vote YES for your NJ school budgets this Tuesday!

If you’re not a New Jersey resident, then you probably haven’t heard that our new governor, Chris Christie, has been slashing the state budget, including making major cuts to education in order to reduce the state’s $10.7 billion deficit. NJ’s 590 school districts are losing a total of $820 million in state aid– equaling up to 5% of their overall budgets — for the next school year, and this has caused an uproar among parents, teachers, the union and the governor. Mainly, it’s become a boxing match between Gov. Christie and the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

As part of their previously-negotiated contract, teachers in the NJEA are set to get 4% raises. Gov. Christie has called for a one-year wage freeze and wants teachers to start paying for a portion of their medical insurance — 1.5% of their salary. In theory, teachers could “save” some of their jobs by agreeing to the wage freeze.

The lack of state aid will have to be made up from teacher/administration cuts and/or property tax increases. New Jersey residents already pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

Some school districts have given precautionary pink slips to teachers as a warning that they may not be able to hire them back in September if the budget in their town doesn’t pass. And I personally know a number of teachers who have been put on notice that they may not have a job come fall.

I don’t want them to lose their jobs. But I think some concessions are going to have to be made, even if it means the union is temporarily weakened. A new contract can be negotiated, and when times are more flush, more money will come their way. Just as it is for those of us employed in the private sector.

Two Sides of the Story

I can see both sides of the situation — contracts and raise negtiations are the reason teachers are in a union, which is looking out for their best interests. But the private sector has been decimated by the weak economy in the past few years. No raises, an increase in payroll deductions for medical insurance expenses, reduction in hours, layoffs — that’s all part of the reality in my industry and in many others. I don’t think a one-year wage freeze to save their jobs, kindergarten programs and some extracurriculars is too much to ask for, especially since their contracts can be renegotiated next year.

Some residents call out the teachers for only working 9 months of the year. According to the Associated Press, in 2006, the average NJ teacher salary was $58,000 — fourth in the nation. Many teachers work during the summer to supplement their incomes, but teachers making $58,000/yr (exclusive of summers) would be hard-pressed to argue their case with other working folk who make that kind of salary year-round. Mr. Saver and I can live on that salary (actually, less) per person — and we own a home and have one new car. We pay toward our health insurance and put money into our 401(k)s. We won’t be able to retire in 25 years with a pension. Of course, we could have gone into careers where we would be eligible for these things, but all industries are different.

So while the teachers say they are standing up to Gov. Christie to make sure he doesn’t weaken the unions, others see the situation as being all about money. Gov. Christie claims the current state of the economy calls for drastic measures. I agree.

But if the budgets don’t pass, the towns will have to decide how to rebudget the money. That may mean some teachers lose their jobs, kids lose some of their sports and AP programs, and residents face yet higher property tax increases.

No matter what, this is a no-win situation for everyone.

9 comments to Cuts to Education and Teachers Salaries: Voting Day

  • Do the math. About $10,000 is going for each student per year. The average teacher teaches 25 kids at a time. That is $250,000 per teacher. Guess what the money is not going to the teachers.

    • Rob

      Paul, that’s how every business operates. Teachers only get a percentage of the $10k per student. The rest of the money goes to other things, like books, balls, safety goggles, test tubes, musical instruments, school buses, fuel, the secretary, and other administrators and equipment. Likewise, I work on multi-million dollar projects, but I only get paid maybe 2-3% of that.

      Even Nicole, the author of this blog, writes for magazines that have thousands of readers, but she doesn’t get paid 100,000 x $4.95. She gets a small fraction of that. We all do; it’s normal.

  • Great job summarizing the situation here in NJ…the school budget passed in my town, what about yours?

    I’m very torn on the issue because on one hand I have nothing but respect for teachers and value the job they do. But on the other hand, they already have a sweeter deal than most of us and yet it always seems like their union is looking for more.

    My oldest is in kindergarten right now and my next one starts the year after next. I’d be very upset if they have to cut back the kindergarten program.

    • Nicole

      @Mike: Right now, the budget did not pass in our town — only by a margin of 8 votes. There are still 12 provisional ballots to be tallied, but the outcome won’t be known until Friday or Monday.

      Like I said in my response to Little House, I don’t want to see education suffer. But I do agree that teachers (by virtue of the strength of their union) had a pretty good deal going, especially after they’ve been teaching a few years. I think in particular, NJ’s main teacher’s union (NJEA) is very strong, which got teachers great results and benefits during flush times. Times aren’t so flush anymore, and that’s why I think concessions need to be made – to save their own jobs.

  • Rob

    $36,000 for nine months of work at an entry-level position is fantastic. However, people who complain about higher taxes are usually the ones living outside of their means in the first place. Residents who complain about a high mortgage payment, a high car payment, high taxes, etc. shouldn’t have bought such an expensive house and car, and could probably do without the high cable TV bill, the new HDTV they just bought, the new outfits, the new mobile phone, etc. People complain about taxes if it means buying fewer frivolous luxuries, but that tax money goes to important things like education, roads, libraries, and fire departments.

    It’s a deep-rooted middle-class inferiority complex. Basically, many middle-class people will cut back on taxes that pay for important things like education, roads, and libraries, in order to buy more luxuries to create the *illusion* of being rich.

  • We’re facing the same budget deficits in CA too. And of course, it’s hitting education hard. I have to say that our union, a very large and strong one, won a tentative agreement to not increase class size which will save many jobs. It’s only for 2 years (no raises during that 2 years, but we haven’t had a raise in 3.)

    The problem many teacher’s and unions see when faced with reduced salary and medical benefits is that they may never get their salary or medical benefit’s back. The more that is taken from teachers, the more they’ll take later on. It’s sort of an uphill battle. Teachers and their Unions fought very hard for their benefits and rights about 30 years ago. Prior to that there were no pensions, medical benefits, and a measly salary. Is that what we want for our children’s educators? Why would anyone want to become a teacher if the pay stunk and the benefits were nonexistent?

    Working with 20 or more kids day after day, trying to get them to care about their own education, teaching them how to read and write and solve math problems isn’t a walk in the park. So many teachers work over the summer planning out the following school year. If so many people think teaching is cake, why don’t they just become teachers? I know why: lot’s of people can’t hack working with other people’s children, behavior problems, learning disabilities. It’s not easy. Many new teachers only last a few years.

    I know people think teacher’s have it easy with all their vacation time. However, it’s our responsibility to give everyone’s kids a good education.

    • Nicole

      Thanks for offering your take on the situation. Most teachers in NJ haven’t gone without pay raises, so it sounds like CA teachers already made concessions. NJ teachers were only asked for a wage freeze for a year, not a reduction in pay. I absolutely understand that teachers don’t want to see your hard-fought contracts or unions weakened by giving in to some of these ideas. IMHO, 1.5% payroll deductions for medical benefits isn’t too much to ask for — state union employees have been doing it for years. They’re also stuck with no raises and mandated furlough days.

      I don’t want to see teachers lose their jobs and class sizes grow, but I think in this case, without the wage freeze, it’s going to happen. Nearly half of the school districts in the state shot down the budgets, so it’s going to cost everyone dearly at this point — teachers, students and taxpayers. Of course, this all began with the governor cutting state aid to school districts, rather than trimming the fat elsewhere (like his own staff), but that’s another story!

  • Red

    Girl, do not even get me started! As a journalist, I made $9.50 an hour full-time. I did a feature, basically a “in the life of an elementary school principal,” and was offered a job as a teacher by one of the principals. Because guess how much they started out at? $36,000 a year! I know that’s not a lot compared to $58,000, but I was existing on $19,760 (pre tax) and had to listen to everyone complain about how underpaid teachers are. You get off for three months of the year! You’re off on most holidays! Just ugh… Told you not to get me started. 😉

    I hope they find a way to work it out without teachers losing their jobs. There is always some fat to budgets, so I hope they’re able to cut out enough to make it through next year.

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