October 12, 2018

Some teachers need to be students
in a budget management class

The New York Times recently ran an interactive piece on "lo the poor teachers" and I'm going to critique it. Pretty harshly.

Half the teachers listed as so poor, so "poor me," have no kids. Half or more are old enough that, unless they went for a late-career master's degree, they should have no student loans. They're all, with the exception of the one in Cincinnati, in the low cost of living South, and many of them in low cost of living places within that. (Cincinnati still has a cost of living, not only in the central city but in the less ritzy suburbs, of below the U.S. average of 100.)

Take Shauntel Higley, the first person pictured, and also shown at right in her window-cleaning second job.

$40K after 20 years of teaching isn't great, no. On the surface, it sounds like a poster child for underpaid Oklahoma teachers.

But, per City-Data, let's get background on Vinita, Oklahoma. Median HOUSEHOLD income is $34K. Median per-capita is $18K. Median house cost (not value)? $149K. Overall cost of living? Lower than where I live. Ms. Higley has one child. But she's married.

Seems to me she's blowing money somewhere. Especially with $4,000 a month in expense. You're blowing a BUNCH of money, or else you have personal interests that are pricey as hell.

Tracy Tevis, the second? Yes, at just 28, she's surely still paying off some loans. And Lexington, Kentucky is more expensive than Vinita, Oklahoma. But, she's making nearly $50K already. And single. And Lexington isn't THAT expensive. Again ... IMO, money's being blown that shouldn't be. Or so one would think. She claims just $1K a month in expenses. Even if she has $1K a month in student loan payments (which sounds high), that's still not that much money. Something doesn't add up.

Skip down to No. 6, Christopher Brobst.

40 and single. Working in exurban Tulsa. $47K. Single. $3K a month in expenses.

Let's do some math for him. That $3K a month in expenses. How? Unless you're high on the hog, you shouldn't spend more than $300 a month on groceries. 15-year-old car should be paid for. If you're dumb enough to have collision insurance on it, get rid of it. That leaves, say, $50 a month for liability. $110 on gas for the car. I'll give you a $1,100K a month mortgage (that's at a 30-year, fixed-rate, 5 percent mortgage on a $200K house, which is above Bixby market value for any house bought before 2010 and well above housing value), $400 a month on utilities + homeowners' insurance. We're still below $2,000 a month!!!! You could see one movie and eat out five times a week at lower-cost places and that is still just about $400 in "entertainment" costs. Still just $2,350. Per City-Data, $200 a month for property taxes, and we're still at just about $2,550.

You want to save more? Assuming you have a $200K house, sell it. Bixby, unlike Atoka and Vinita, is growing. Suburban Broken Arrow, exurban Tulsa. Flip that house. Go to one a decade older and a bit smaller, but still with more room than you, a single person with no kids, need, and in good shape. Use the money from easily selling your current house to put that smaller one on a 20-year mortgage instead of a 30-year.  And stop believing your house is an investment.

Even the last person, with three kids? Making nearly $60K a year in low-cost Atoka, Oklahoma. And, through this year, though she'll be losing it, she's been getting child support payments, too. Atoka? Median HOUSEHOLD income of $25K. Cost of living as low as Vinita.

Let's go outside the full South, to John Caliguri, in Cincinnati. Yes, more expensive there ... as he hauls in $81K a year. (Cincinnati itself is no more expensive than Lexington.) He's married, but no kids.

Unless teaching is his second career, he doesn't have student loans. Even if he does, from a second career, unless he went to a private school for a teaching degree, it can't be that bad.

 I’m not behind in bills, I’m not worried about my next meal, but between Airbnb, Uber and Amazon — the most physically exhausting job I’ve ever had — I was bringing in an extra $2,200 a month, and that makes living doable.
What's your definition of "doable"? You're pulling in more than $25K a year in SECONDARY income? You're making more than $100K a year and bitching?

GFY. That's all I got to say there.

And, in one of those MSM media trend type deals, Time has jumped on this. A teacher in her early 50s, in Versailles, Kentucky, making in the low $50s, and married, and "has to" work a second job as a security guard at the Lexington airport. Cost of living? Slightly below 90. Let's say they have two kids, and let's assign one kid and child costs to each parent. This teacher pays half of a, let's say, a $1,300 a month mortage, per the Bixby teacher. "Pays" $500 a month for raising a kid. So, that's $7,500 more in expenses. At most. On a salary at least $5K higher.

Or, another way. You pay $10K a year more in taxes than a $30K a year single mom. $6K a year more in mortgage versus her rent. You're still $4K ahead. Oh, and she's saving money, if but barely.

Other "Poor Me" teachers who can GFY are the ones in Texas making as much as $200K side income selling their teaching sekruts on Instagram.

I've said in the past teachers should be paid well.

I've also said that teachers, and school districts, should have 200-day or more European/East Asian developed nation school years. And that teaching needs to be more in-depth. This would probably mean requiring secondary-level teachers, in exchange for more pay, to all have subject-level bachelor's degrees, not just education degrees. Even at middle school. And, yes, that's the way that is in other developed nations.

More and more teachers, like doctors over the past 20 years, seem to have lost the idea of teaching as a vocation. (I also heard this expressed by a retired teacher at the recent campaign forum here, though she was referring more to the "outside" world not regarding teaching as a "profession.") And, except for the one person on the main link teaching in inner-city Oklahoma City, none of these teachers is in a "hazardous duty" area that might call for extra pay for that reason. And, along with that, especially at the high school level, their students may be picking up lessons about trying harder to buy into late-stage capitalism rather than kicking at a rotten edifice.

For Caliguri, the Cincinnati teacher worried about a student seeing him at a moonlighting job? What about the student who somehow hears "I can't make it on less than $100k"?

And, there's more.

Here in the South, in the smaller towns at least, the teacher's is making more than a cop or a firefighter in most cases. And, in towns not just at 15,000, but Vinita's 10,000-ish, that cop has to have the functional equivalent of an associate's degree. In the 15K town, the library director may not need an MLS, but he or she will have to have a bachelor's in either library science or information science.

Now, let's compare you to the general public.

Teachers, at least based on my extensive Texas knowledge:
1. You're getting step pay raises about every year
2. You have a state retirement system
3. Your health bennies are much better than average, and continue into retirement, for possible rollover into a Medicare supplement
4. After a few years at the same school district, you have semi-tenured job security.
5. You get summers off.

Oh, I'd pay all of you 20-25 percent more if you'd agree to a 200-day, or more, school year, like all other "developed" nations except Canada (190) do. It's why American kids forget shit, and as they move higher up the grade ladder fall further and further behind students from these other countries. The average school day is usually shorter. That means, by hours, the classroom year isn't that much longer. It also means that you have time for more, and more intensive, in-school "homework."

I'll pay middle and high school teachers at least 30 percent more, if you ALL have, at least, a subject-field major in addition to your education major as a dual major. I'd prefer two separate degrees. In other words, if you want to teach high school math, and make 30 percent more? Get a math degree. This is a no brainer.

This will never happen in bass-ackwards America. Even with the additional money. Teachers, even if they're not working, or not working much, in summer, brag about all that time off. Heard it personally more than once, mentioned as a job incentive.

And, I've seen the overspending, too.

Per personal experience, this doesn't totally surprise me, though.

None of it does.

I'm not going to say more.

Yes, I am.

Teachers talk about buying supplies out of their personal pocket? Maybe some do, but how many? Besides, when I was a publisher of two small weekly newspapers, I regularly kept the office coffee supplied. Occasionally bought other supplies. I was try ing to make the company-allocated budget with room to spare.

Update, March 20, 2019: Beto has now jumped on the poor teachers bandwagon. $50K a year in average pay (Dallas ISD will START teachers at $50K this fall) ain't "poor." And, the second jobs are usually summer only.

Better answer? More progressive taxation and brackets.


There's also one big issue which teachers either aren't thinking about, though they should, or else are ignorant of, which itself is scary for at least high school teachers. It's an issue that the Times and Time authors also ignored.

It's called The Great Recession. In many states, of course, it led to an implosion of a housing bubble — one that is sadly reinflating on even more speculative buying than 15 years ago, and by even better-"heeled" buyers.

Most school districts, as far as the local portion of school funding, are based on property taxes. If the overall taxable value of property in your district has yet to fully recover to 2008 levels, well, there you go. This takes added value in some of these rural states. Texas has a senior citizens homestead exemption. If other states offer similar, it is likely to be impacting these rural districts more.


Sidebar: The piece is also frustrating because both the Times author and the assignment editor themselves seem clueless about the cost of living more than 50 miles outside of Manhattan. Also, this piece comes off as semi-clickbait. Thank doorknobs for Ghostery.

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