How much is too much?

I opened the newspaper the other day and the headline jumped out at me:
 
"Talks for Teachers Contract Have Intensified"
 
This, just months after our area put through a very large tax referendum because parents were threatened with draconian cuts in school programs such as completely eliminating sports, music, and foreign language. Every penny was needed to cover a looming budget deficit due to the administration’s projected population growth in the area. It was deemed "critical" that the referendum passed to maintain the quality of our schools and to prevent a decrease in property values. But now that the scare tactic worked, here comes the teachers’ union, looking for the usual suspects — an increase in health insurance, salary, and fringe benefits.
 
While I don’t think teachers should be paid a minimum wage, how much is too much? It’s difficult to set limits when it comes to our children’s education, but that doesn’t make it all right to take advantage of that fact and completely gouge us as taxpayers. In an environment where private schools are able to educate kids at a fraction of the per student cost, there needs to be responsibility and accountability in terms of how our tax dollars are spent.
 
The problem with school districts — as any government agency — is that they are not run as businesses, even when hundreds of millions of dollars are being allocated and spent. How many companies provide their employees with 10 percent salary increases? How many corporations provide employees with an automatic pay raise just for taking a few college courses? How many employers are paying 100 percent of employees’ health insurance costs? The answer to all of these is almost zero, yet it’s commonplace amongst the school districts.
 
If the teachers’ demands are not met, out comes the heavy hitter, the strike. No matter how outlandish the contract terms, this is always a home run. Parents of course do not want to see their kids miss school, and for working parents, this poses an incredible burden to find last minute child care — how many of them do you think adopt a "give them what they want, just open the schools" attitude?
 
And of course, why shouldn’t we expect the school board to cave under the heavy pressure from the teachers’ union and parents? Our board, as many are, is made up of volunteer individuals who receive no compensation — there must come a breaking point where they don’t feel it is worth the further hassle.
 
I guess I would feel more sympathy for the teachers if the age-old adage about them being grossly underpaid were more evident in my area. According to salary.com, the median base pay for a teacher is $48,339, while a police patrol officer earns $45,033, and a fire fighter a mere $37,220. My son’s first grade teacher earns over $64,000 for a 9-month work year — over $41 per hour. This is below the fair market value?
 
I would also have an easier time condoning these salaries if a teacher’s job performance were more directly tied to their level of pay. It’s been argued that it is difficult to measure a teacher’s success rate. That the only real measurement tools are student aptitude test scores. I don’t understand this — in the real world there are a countless number of employees that are reviewed based on factors other than sales numbers and quotas. Administrative assistants, customer service representatives, accountants, etc., all are evaluated on a number of intangibles. Why is it, then, not possible for principals and vice-principals to routinely observe a teacher’s interaction with their students and provide an educated opinion of their performance?
 
The truly underpaid are the unsung heroes, the ones that keep the cogs oiled and moving — the district administration staff. Our district’s webmaster, who oversees the maintenance and design of the websites for the district and all of the K-12 schools (there is no separate web designer position), makes $38,000 per year in an industry where the median income is $65,000. When I talked to the IT director about the discrepancy I was told, "no one works for the district to become rich. It’s not about the money, it’s about creating the most enriching environment possible for the children." What he failed to explain is the real difference — district administration staff are not part of any union, and their cut in salaries subsidize those that are. While some teachers may not specifically be in it for the money, their union representatives sure as hell makes it seem as if they are.

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