School Dazed

The Clark County (NV)  School District sent pink slips to 419 teachers this morning after eliminating more than 1,000 teaching positions next school year to balance its budget.”  [Las Vegas Sun]

The negative responses are predictable. ” It’s those greedy teachers who want to pad their pockets instead of teaching.”  Or, “…it’s that greedy UNION that won’t give concessions and that’s the reason teachers are being laid off.”  Wrong on both counts.

First up to the plate, ‘pad their pockets?’  Those pockets aren’t all that deep in the first place.   Annual salaries for Clark County School District teachers range from about $34,688 for a rookie to $69,252 for a seasoned veteran with advanced studies certification or a PhD.  [CCSD] Given this truncated range of earnings, one doesn’t get into the Ed Biz to get rich, or even close to it.

Nationally, the median pay for elementary school teachers is about $51,380 annually.  [DoL] Compare that to the national median wage for 2009 calculated at $49,777 which includes ALL occupations.  [Census]  So, if one is a kindergarten or elementary school teacher that bachelor’s degree is worth about $1,603 over the median wage for everyone doing everything else in the country.

Nevada’s median annual income is $55,726 [Census] Thus, a rookie teacher with a bachelor’s degree is earning $21,038 less than the Nevada median income, and a top tier veteran tops out at $13,526 more than the statewide median.   This is hardly the stuff of Greed, Inc.

But, but, but… How about the Big Pensions?  The Benefits?  Not. So. Much.   “The employee and the employer each make a contribution to PERS. The contribution made by you is on an after-tax basis. The employee contribution to PERS under this plan is 12.25% and the employer contribution is 12.25%.”  [PERS]   Note that fully 50% of the contributions into the retirement system are made by the employee.  The 50% paid by the employer is “in lieu of wages or salary.”   In short, what the employee has in retirement funding is comprised of half he or she paid in individually, and half from the district which is part of the total compensation package.   The teacher under discussion here is paid wages (out of which are deducted retirement contributions) plus retirement benefits paid by the district for work done during the school term.

There’s enough fodder for another complete post on the format for retirement benefits and the payment thereof which have advantages for both the employee and for the school district, but that should be taken up on another day.  For now, let’s assume that (1) our hypothetical teacher is not getting rich while working for a public school system, and (2) certainly isn’t retiring to a private island after his or her career is over.

Concessions?  The talking point of the day is often, “If the greedy union would just give some concessions, then there would be no need to lay off teachers.”   One of the major problems with this argument is its lack of specificity.  What, for example, would teachers have to give up in order to make the numbers work?   If teachers paid $264 per credit hour out of their own pockets for additional coursework to qualify for advancement on the salary schedule how should this effort be reflected in that schedule?  A “five hour” graduate course would cost $1,320, a “three hour” course $792.  Accumulating 32 hours of graduate coursework would cost approximately $8,448 at UNLV.

Are teachers expected to pay out of pocket for additional educational training and coursework and then expect NOTHING in even partial recompense for their expenditures?

Are teachers supposed to forgo cost of living increases year after year, and accept increases (or decreases) in salaries which have no connection to the reality of actual increases in household expenses?  This isn’t greed, it’s a Go Broke Slowly Plan.

How many “furlough” days should an public school employee have to assume?  How many days could a building go without maintenance? Without ancillary personnel?

Chiseling.  One might chisel a few dollars from compensation for credit hours accumulated, or get a few more from requiring that teachers and their families squeeze more out of less as their salaries don’t increase to match inflationary pressures, or even garner a few more my furloughing “non-essential” personnel.  A few dollars more from cutting out some extra-curricular activities?  Could we drop music, art, and physical education programs? Should we drop speech therapists? School nurses? Counselors?  Librarians?  Put a few more kids in a special education class?

At some point, those who contend that we can simply scrub out the “waste” in the system should be required to demonstrate that their “plan” for reducing educational costs will actually fulfill the needs of the district.  Scatter-gun assertions that “fat can be cut here…or here…or here” are inadequate in terms of addressing the funding needs of the school district.  It’s tempting to say to public school detractors: “If you have a comprehensive plan for public school funding, then for Heaven’s Sake present it.  If all you want to do is carp around the edges of the issue, complaining that there are too many administrators, too many aides, too many nurses…. then go home and come back when you have a plan which funds the administration and implementation of a comprehensive school system.”

The Economics

The silliest notion coming from the right wing is that somehow or another teachers are not part of the overall local economy.  This assumes that teachers do not pay taxes (income, sales, or property) and that they don’t purchase gasoline, clothing, food.  Evidently, the proponents of this ludicrous line of argument have forgotten that teachers pay rent or make house payments.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the 1,419 teachers either not employed or laid off from the next school term in Clark County balance out to an average each of about $52,500 per year.   In pure hard cold terms, that’s $74,497,500 lost to the Clark County economy.   That is money that will not be spent for house payments, for rent, for groceries, for clothing, for automobiles, for gasoline, for auto maintenance, for household appliances, for books, for entertainment, for medical services.  It will not be spent for utilities, for phone service, for insurance, or for household maintenance supplies.

It will not be spent on landscaping or construction projects.  It will not be spent on veterinary care. It will not be spent on a night at the movies. It will not be spent on paint, party supplies, or eyeglasses.   It will not be spent because it won’t be there.

If 20% of the $74,497,500 that might have been expended for consumer products is gone, then so too is the 8.1% sales tax that might have been collected — $1,206,859.30.  Gone.

The conclusion ought to be reasonably obvious.  Cuts to public sector employment don’t merely hurt the school district’s pocket book.  They don’t just have an impact on the individuals laid off or not re-employed. They are not confined to a few “extraneous” groups.  The cuts impact the economy of the entire community.   Those unwilling to pay for the education of “other peoples children” because it might mean “raising taxes” conveniently forget that Teachers are Consumers and Taxpayers.

The prospect of 37 children in a kindergarten class is daunting, the prospect of losing $74,497,500 of consumer spending in the Clark County economy ought to be horrifying.

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