By JOHN SULLIVAN • March 22, 2012
Many educators, especially teachers, have been noticing that there is growing disapproval of their profession when there once was respect. Why would this be? This is a nation of upward mobility and education is a key driver. Education is an important input into the economy and is said to be the only such input that does not have a diminishing return. Why would educators experience growing disrespect and even hostility when what they do is so important? Educators ask, “Why do they now hate us so?”
One reason, of course, is that they do such a poor job of it. Student test scores have been declining for decades and, despite spending more per student on education than any country in the world, we are receiving a mediocre – and deteriorating – product. This is to be expected, of course, when educators are compensated for “time on the job” – no matter how badly they perform. It probably doesn’t help that there is growing evidence that teachers themselves do not do well on the standardized tests that are so important for their students and that a degree from a “Teachers College” is not exactly (ahem) “difficult to obtain”.
Another reason is the hypocrisy shown when teachers blather about “it’s all about the kids”, and then do anything to destroy any competition that “does a better job for the kids.” When “charter schools” show a dramatic improvement in student outcomes, it does not spur public school educators to do a better job – it spurs them to put pressure on legislators to close them (such as in Washington D.C.). No, although there are individual teachers who care about the kids, as a group, educators have shown over and over that they don’t really give a damn.
A third reason for the growing disdain for educators is their whining about “how hard their job is,” when they live in a virtual Eden. They have no concerns about inflation, retirement income, healthcare, dental care, prescriptions, eyeglasses, life insurance, substantial increases in income, long hours, night and weekend work, or business travel. They make, in total compensation on a monthly basis, 3-6 times their counterparts in the private sector, get automatic raises, have no accountability for their work whatsoever, and then retire at an early age on fabulous pensions. The taxpayers, who provide 100% of this Utopia, have no such easy life but have to listen to the complaining of teachers.
Why has it taken so long for students, taxpayers, and parents to figure this out? Well, teachers lie a lot. Many “pay for their own healthcare” but do not explain that they get a stipend to pay for it. They claim that they only get 2% raises without explaining that they get 2-3 other raises as well. They insist that they pay for their own pensions without explaining that, in about half the school districts in Illinois, they are reimbursed for their contribution. Of those who actually do pay, they do not explain that they only pay about 5% of what they will receive. A teacher who retires with a $100,000 final salary and a $75,000 pension with a 3% raise every year will typically have paid less than $100,000 into the pension fund. Who in the private sector has ever gotten a deal where they can plop down $100,000 at age 58 and get a pension like that for life? Yet, the private sector pays for it.
It is “interesting” that a 2% raise somehow becomes a 6% raise, which then becomes a 10% raise because any increase in pay carries over into the pension. The “average teacher pension amount” is another attempt to deceive. A union official or teacher spokesman will speak of an average pension of $20,000. Oops! Without including short-time teachers, this becomes $30,000. Oops, without including part-time teachers, this becomes $40,000. Oops! Without including teachers long since retired, this becomes $50,000. On and on, until one realizes that a P.E. teacher that makes over $200,000 today will retire on a pension of $150,000 that will double in 20 years and triple in 30 years due to the 3% increases. This is what the private sector calls “not bad for a part-time job.”
Finally, educators have isolated themselves from their own communities. Deliberately deceiving one’s neighbors is not a nice thing to do, especially when these neighbors are providing, with federal, state, and local tax dollars, the idyllic existence enjoyed by educators. It sounds rather ungrateful. It is also rather ungrateful to refuse to accept any accountability for results – to insist that no teacher be fired for doing a poor job even when the evidence of falling student test scores proves that many teachers are doing a poor job. Today’s teachers have more money to work with, smaller class sizes, more aides, more staff, and more “special ed.” assistants than teachers of twenty years ago could even imagine, yet they still manage to turn in negative productivity every year. This means that today’s teachers are, quite simply, “non-performing assets.”
So, how do teachers get more and more compensation when their performance would get them fired immediately if they were in the private sector? The answer is “despicably.” They do not work hard, do a better job, and then rightly ask or bargain for salary increases. Instead, they take taxpayer money, pay it to the union in dues, and then the union uses this taxpayer money to bribe our public officials with campaign contributions and election support. They make campaign contributions, and who knows what else, to the School Board candidates that they will negotiate against and who will vote on their contract. They have used their work time and resources for political work. They’ve used their students for political work. They use whatever means possible, on local, state, and national levels, to get as much from their neighbors as they can squeeze out, while doing whatever is within their means to keep their neighbors from finding out how much that really is. Then, they insist that a beginning teacher, on the first day on the job, is immediately guaranteed $20,000,000 of taxpayer money over his lifetime.
Excessive salaries, benefits, healthcare benefits in retirement, and obscene pensions for educators, all do more damage than is readily apparent. Everyone knows that 70% of real estate taxes go to schools and that 85% of that is for educator compensation. However, not everyone realizes that a part of federal income tax makes its way back to teachers. Not everyone realizes that a part of their state income tax makes its way back as well. By the way, their pensions are exempt from state income tax. Not everyone realizes that this spending drives tax increases and borrowing. Borrowing, of course, is just a deferred tax. Not everyone realizes that the bulk of healthcare and pension obligations is unfunded. This amount, of course, is also just “deferred taxes.” The money has been spent, but the revenue will not be there until our children and grandchildren are taxed to pay for it.
Well, educators, does this answer your question? Why do they hate you so? Incompetence, ingratitude, hypocrisy, deliberate deceptiveness and lying, greed, monopolistic power, undermining the economy, political corruption, using taxpayer money to screw taxpayers and their children – gee whiz, what’s not to like? So, the law says that your community has to make sacrifices to provide educators with a posh existence and the union says that parents and students have to take whatever level of education you choose to dish out, but it really is too much to expect them to like it.
You have separated yourselves from us, and your neighbors are still in the early stages of realizing what you have truly done. What you do to provide yourself with an easy life may be acceptable to Illinois politicians, but it is not acceptable to decent people. Learn to enjoy the company of fellow teachers and expect to be shunned by others. Do not tell people what you do for a living. Learn to slink. Do not blame your union – you pay your dues and you take what they buy you. You take taxpayer money, give it to the union in dues, these go to politicians, the politicians return the favor by legislating in favor of teachers, and taxpayers have to pay for it. Using your neighbor’s money to cheat that very same neighbor is also not a nice thing to do. We don’t like people who do that sort of thing. Guess what? Contemptible behavior earns contempt.
You must learn to enjoy your $150,000 state pensions while Illinois cuts money from battered women, the homeless, the poor, and the troubled children. What the hell! If they wanted to eat, they should have used taxpayer money to make million-dollar campaign contributions! The “battered women union” should have offered a job to a relative of a politician! Above all, educators, those of you with a conscience must learn not to listen to it. . .
John Sullivan is a financial analyst and adviser who lives in Palatine, Illinois.