SocraticGadfly: 10/7/18 - 10/14/18

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.

October 11, 2018

Candidate forum in NE Texas — a few thoughts

We had a forum here in Northeast Texas Tuesday night, sponsored by the area retired teachers org.

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Mike Collier was here, so of course Danny Goeb was not.

A staffer for state senator Bob Hall was here. And even got a boo or two at the end when he defended Hall on both vouchers and wanting to put future teachers on a 401k.

His opponent, Kendell Scudder, continues to impress me as far as what you'd find as a Dem candidate in a semi-rural race. He loathes Hall as a politician, and with good reason; he's as much a nutter as Goeb.
State Rep. Dan Flynn was here too. Him of the anti-sharia bill. Other than that, which is a big other, he's not a total nutter. His challenger is Bill Brannon, long-time state party apparatchik, who said he tried and failed to recruit other candidates before running himself.

All three Democrats called Flynn out on the anti-Sharia bill, which technically doesn't mention Sharia, because that would be unconstitutional per federal appellate court, but everybody knows who the bill was directed at.

The actual needs for it is somewhere between "nonexistent" and "less than the need for a similar bill for regulating ultra-Hasidic Jewish law at Kiryas Joel." (No winger Religious Right Republican would dare do that, of course.)

Collier, on the fiscal stuff, isn't bad overall, though too much a big biz Dem. He's right about the biz franchise tax and schools and also about the loophole for businesses to appeal their appraisals, which is a documented problem; newspapers in Texas' medium and large cities have written repeatedly about it.

Scudder has mentioned rural issues, specifically better, and better access to, rural broadband Internet, in his platform, which appeals to the half or so of State Senate District 2 not in the Metroplex. He also smartly pulled endorsement feathers of of his hat: He mentioned that both the Dallas Morning News and Hall's predecessor, not-nutbar Republican Bob Deuell, had endorsed him.

Brannon was the most "Kumbaya" of the three Democrats, even saying at the end, if you're going to vote for one of the three Republicans, vote for Flynn. All three Democrats, in some degree, went Kumbaya.

Note to Democrats: Republican voters even short of tea-party leaning status, in rural areas, generally aren't listening. (Sidebar to Beto O'Rourke: In urban areas, like older portions of Collin County and certainly Dallas County suburbs, you might find those mythical moderates, independents, swing voters, etc. Not in Northeast Texas and certainly not in Iraan.)

Election odds: To riff on Brains, I think Collier's chances are still a fair bit behind O'Rourke's. Brannon will likely get smoked. Scudder? I think he'll lose, but his regional chances are, IMO, not a lot worse than O'Rourke's statewide. The endorsements probably will have little play out here, but certainly will in the Metroplex portion of the district. The middle ground of Greenville, where Deuell is from? If his endorsement plays there, who knows. And, should he lose, he's feisty, in any case, and has done a fair amount of campaign homework.

That said, while Hall barely toppled Deuell in the 2014 primary in a runoff, and barely fended off State Rep. Cindy Burkett in this year's primary, no Democrat ran in 2014.

October 09, 2018

TX Progressives offer roundup of pre-voting info and more

The Texas Progressive Alliance encourages you to double-check your status if you have already registered to be certain you are ready to cast your ballot.

The state's website link to request a voter registration application (within the first link above) crashed and stayed down for several hours this past Saturday.

The state's voter rolls have surged to 15.6 million Texans, surpassing the 14 million registered voters since the last midterm election (2014).  More than 400,0000 have signed up to vote since March, and Harris County led the way with over 55,000 of those.

On to the roundup of lefty blog posts and news from around the Lone Star State from last week!

The Texas Tribune collects everything you need to know about voting this autumn.

Texas Standard says that the Brennan Center will be closely watching Texas again for indications of the kind of voter suppression tactics -- excessively strict application of the voter id requirement, voters illegally purged from the rolls, and the like -- the state has long been guilty of.

Maria Recio at the Austin Statesman describes how John Cornyn secured the necessary votes to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Grits for Breakfast seems encouraged by Greg Abbott's apparent evolution on marijuana decriminalization, revealed in his debate with Lupe Valdez ten days ago.  Michael Barajas at TO is somewhat more skeptical.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram has the details on Ag Commissioner Sid Miller complaining about a homemade yard sign, and the police going to the woman's Central Texas home and confiscating it. (Yours truly tweeted about this multiple times, including the initial cave-in to Sid reaction of his opponent, Kim Olson, who later owned up to committing a snafu.)

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Juan Segundo after questions about his mental capability were raised.

David Collins posted Parts II ("Shut Up About Purity Tests") and III ("The Harder Way") of 'Demanding Better', his pleadings to the progressive electorate to just let the two-party system die already.

Brains and Eggs blogged about the debate between the Houston firefighters union president and Mayor Sylvester Turner over Proposition 2, the 'pay parity' referendum.

SocraticGadfly sees that the Corps of Engineers could soon be pushing an Ike Dike, which he continues to oppose.

Charles Watson at Rural Texas Voices writes about substance abuse trends in Texas.

Texas Vox wants you to know that the state has a plan to ship nuclear waste through your neighborhood, and there is still time for you to speak out about it.

Jim Schutze's observations about the plight of the homeless in the Dallas Observer reveal the sociopathy of city leaders and those who support them in this endeavor.

And the Texas Observer's collection of "Strangest State" news (from the third quarter of the year -- July, August, September) features a woman in Corpus who spoke at a city council meeting dressed as a cockroach.

October 08, 2018

The Nation sux as John Nichols drinks the Beto Kool-Aid

No other way to say it. Two hack pieces are the bottom lines on that. Both underscore the fact that The Nation is not even really left-liberal, and certainly not close to leftist.

The minor one is a total puff piece on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez "responding to her critics." There's not that much response and it's not about all critical comments.

The biggie is John Nichols, whom I've called out on Twitter before, claiming Beto O'Rourke supports single payer and otherwise totally chugging the Beto Kool-Aid.

No he doesn't John.

Beto is a ConservaDem who has in all three terms in the House, refused to cosponsor John Conyers' HR 676. He also went out of his way to say he couldn't back Bernie Sanders' weaker S. 1804. All this, plus the fact that Beto is among the most conservative one-third of Democratic House members and more conservative one-half of Texas House Democrats, as I have thoroughly documented, is all on the record.

Nichols also ignores that Beto's stances on the War on Drugs are all words and in the case of down-scheduling marijuana, have not translated into action.

He lets Beto blather about militarization while ignoring his district is home to Fort Bliss and that Beto has supported bringing home plenty of military bacon.

Contra Nichols, no, there's plenty that is mealy-mouthed about his campaign. And, lastly, with his "Clampdown" title, Nichols is playing on personality-driven, rather than issue-driven, politics.

I wouldn't subscribe to The Nation if it offered me a price of a dime an issue.

I mean, the mag has long done good work about the problems of America. I learned from it 20 years ago about the differences between American and European unemployment calculations and the reasons that matter.

But, it refuses to look outside the duopoly when talking about politicians and parties. And, to a lesser extent, before this became quite as big an issue for me, I'd busted its chops on this before, and one or two writers besides Nichols by name.