Teachers and Politics

The budgetary “catastrophe” was narrowly avoided for many, though not all, school districts in New Jersey yesterday. If the budgets hadn’t been passed, the consequences would have been, we were warned, “disastrous,” and “the children” would have suffered unspecified but very scary things. After all, what was proposed by Governor Chris Christie, whom New Jersey Education Association members compared to the genocidal dictator Pol Pot and openly prayed would die, was no raise for teachers this year. Some districts were also contemplating asking teachers and administrators—who currently receive full health and retirement benefits at no cost to themselves—to contribute some small amount toward their own benefits.

This bears repeating. What school districts were asked to do was agree to a one-year freeze of wages, and some of them were also asked to contribute something more than zero to their own comprehensive benefits. This was the outrage? This is what justified the profanity-laden missives, the protests, the shout-downs, the haranguing of the students in their charge to bully and beg their parents, the frightening of students about what would happen to their teachers if the budgets didn’t pass or if the governor got his way? 

I suppose the rest of us should be thankful that, despite the recent severe economic downturn, we all got raises last year and none of us had to pay for our benefits. 

But, of course, that’s not true, is it? I, for one, got no raise from my employer last year. And I also pay for my own benefits. In fact, I pay quite a lot: I pay $317 per month for my health benefits alone, and that is for the lowest-level, least-expensive option my employer offers. By contrast, if I were to opt for a plan similar to the “Cadillac” plan all employees (full- and part-time) of my local NJ school district get, it would cost me $827 per month! I wish I could afford that, but, alas, I can’t—in part because my local property taxes are so high so that I can pay my “fair share” of the Cadillac plan the school district employees enjoy. 

One reason NJEA representatives give for their stubborn refusal to compromise is that teachers have been “historically underpaid.” Perhaps historically, but not now. A quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation. Average teacher salary in the Pascack Valley, NJ school district where I live: $80,111. Not exactly poverty level—but even it doesn’t tell the whole story. Teachers are required by NJ state law to work 180 days per year; allowing for weekends and a reasonable yet generous three weeks of paid vacation, that means they work approximately 77% of the year. Thus converting their salary to a full twelve-month equivalent, it becomes $104,040 per year. If we add to that the not atypical cost my employer charges me for a health care plan similar to theirs, $9,912 per year, it brings their total average annual compensation to an equivalent of $113,952!

That puts their average in the 85th percentile of all household incomes in America, and in the 93rd percentile of all individual incomes in America. Is that supposed to be “underpaid”?

On top of their dubious economic argument, however, there is a seedier aspect to this issue. Many children in public schools around New Jersey were subject to repeated pleading, cajoling, and browbeating by their teachers and their administrators. Many local districts required students to attend all-school assemblies where superintendants warned them of dire consequences if the new, bigger budgets did not pass. Would kindergarten have to be cut? Would art? Would athletic programs? Who really knew what the schools would “have to do” if they didn’t get their raises?

Governor Christie accused the NJEA of “using students like drug mules.” He had a point.

I believe these behaviors on the part of NJEA members constitute a breach of professionalism and of fiduciary responsibilities toward both the students in their charge and the parents and taxpayers who pay their wages and expenses. How dare they abuse their positions of authority over children in the service of such narrow and patently self-serving political ends?

I think this also means that the NJEA and its members have lost credibility and authority to speak on behalf of their students. Their behavior—which has included threats, distortions, and manipulation of children—has exposed their true motives. They may have real concerns about their students, but it is clear that politics and their own pocketbooks trump them.

6 thoughts on “Teachers and Politics

  1. Great post.

    I went to that high school (Pascack Valley)! A horrible experience. Dropped out senior year and started going to Rutgers-Newark, during the January of what had been my senior year of high school ….

  2. Having briefly researched the cost of real estate in the “school district where [you] live,” I can well believe the teaching staff at local schools make more money than the typical public school educator. They’d have to in order to live within a hundred miles of the school! In addition, districts with higher property tax income frequently pay more — often much more — than other districts in the same state. Please do the same research on the payscale for teachers in the poorer parts of New Jersey before you blithely dismiss the economic situation of New Jersey teachers in general.

  3. Rebecca: I can assure you that there is nothing blithe in my assessment of this matter. These matters are deadly serious to me, and I take the breach of fiduciary responsibility of NJEA officials and members as a matter of grave public concern.

    A few thoughts in response to your comments.

    First, teachers “need to” make that much money in order to “live within a hundred miles of the school”? Sorry, but that’s preposterous. There is a tremendous range of home prices within even a ten mile radius.

    Moreover, it was recently reported locally that nearly 80% of all local public school teachers are members of two-income households. That means that their salary of $113,952 is only part of their household income.

    In any case, your own blithe dismissal of making that mere $113,952 per year shows a rather callous disregard for those many people locally who are making due with significantly less than that.

    As for researching other districts, that job has been done, and the patterns are repeated throughout the state. In New Jersey one finds the highest total tax burden in the country, and its public school teachers are typically in the top 20% of their local income earners. In other words, they are the “rich” they so often villify.

    One final thing: the executive director of the New Jersey Teacher’s Association receives an annual salary of $550,000. As Governor Christie has pointed out, that salary alone–which is paid by teachers’ union dues, which in turn come from taxes–is larger than the total cuts proposed in 190 of NJ’s 605 school districts.

  4. Right On! As the great Bastiat said:

    Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.

    But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.

    Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain — and since labor is pain in itself — it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.

    When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.

    As long as teachers can get more money by protesting and lampooning students, they will continue to do so. The only solution is to have teachers actually perform for their salaries, like EVERYONE else.

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