Being Upfront about Teacher pay

There has been much gnashing of teeth and consternation going on about teacher pay and a 3% pay cut teachers may be forced to swallow. What gets to me more than anything else is the vile comments that get posted afterward when an article is posted on teacher pay in the local newspapers. Given the comments, one would think that teachers were getting rich and not doing much to earn the vast sums of money they make. I have to say I look at that with bemusement. I guess it is time to put my cards on the table.

For regular readers of the SSS blog, you already know my story. However, many of you don’t. I switched careers in my mid 40’s to become a teacher. I am honored to teach math at Rainier Beach HS. I am in my 6th year. I love my job and I love teaching math to students. I think I have a great job. However, here are the facts of my situation.

I hold an undergrad in Accounting and a Masters in Finance. Before I decided to become a teacher, I worked for a bank in investment accounting. In 2003 (my last full year there), I made $75,000 (that included my bonus), had a defined benefit pension plan that my employer fully funded that would make it possible to retire comfortably after 25 years of service with basically with what I would be making in my last year of working, a 401k that the employer matched dollar for dollar up to 4% of my salary. On top of that, my health care was fully paid for and my wife was on the plan at no charge to me also. The plan was a top notch Blue Cross plan with no co-pays and a very, very large network of doctors, dentists, vision and mental health providers available to us. I also had 4 weeks vacation and every holiday off. I also was given a yearly bus pass, so I did not have to drive downtown.

In mid 2004, I left banking to join the Career Switcher program at CWU-Lynnwood to become a teacher. I did okay in the program, student taught at Ingraham and was fortunate to land a job at RB starting in September 2005. I have been there ever since. Once again, I want to say that I love what I do.

Since yesterday was May 1st, it was payday. Here is a summary of my paycheck. My salary for the month was $5,016.69. That works out to $60,200 for the year. Now I do earn an extra $50/month for being on the schools Building Leadership Team and an extra $100 for being one of the schools Education Technology leaders. That earns me an additional $1,500 for the 10 months I get paid for doing that. So, I will earn a little under $62,000 this year for working at Rainier Beach. Now I have taught Summer School the past few years and that is a good paying gig. I have earned $3,500 additional for doing that. Of course, it is a victim of the budget axe this year, so I am hoping another district will be willing to hire me. My total gross for the year (if I am able to teacher Summer School) will be about $65,000.

Now on, to the benefits package I have. I pay $171.43 to my cover mine and my wife’s health insurance plan. It is with Group Health and it is full of co-pays and deductibles. I then also have a mandatory 5% of my salary payment into my defined benefit pension plan. I am in Plan 3 which means that when I retire (which I plan to do at age 70, after 25 years of teaching), the plan will pay me 25% of the average of my 5 highest salary years. In addition, I put $160 per month into my 403b plan. If you assume inflation is 3% per year and stock market returns of 8% per year, when I retire, I will retire with the equivalent of what is $46,000 now. After taxes and these deductions, I clear a little over $3,600 per month.

I post this not to complain. I post this to show people the reality of what a teacher makes and where the money goes. Given my education, I am on the far right of the salary scale, so I earn more than most 6th year teachers in the district. My wife has been unemployed for over 2 years and I feel fortunate to have a job. I am honored that I get to educate your children and I take that responsibility very seriously. You can pass judgment on all sorts of things I do, but please think before you speak when you want to demonize teachers about what they do and what they make. That anger is misplaced.


Anonymous said…
Mr. Rice, would you consider posting this in the Seattle Times editorial? I know you will take hits, but it is there and other mainstream media sites that you will find most of the vitriol. The topic of teacher's pay and its union did not just randomly hit the headlines in past year. It is a contrived problem that some have made up to bring the issue of public sector union, the economics of huge pension plans, and its political power into the political debate.

The Economist did a large section about this very issue not just in the US, but in other industrialized countries.

Public school mom
Anonymous said…
Mr. Rice,
The real problem here is that our community has adopted the Bill Gates game plan for dealing with teachers. The following article give a good description of the current approach to changing education.

This may be the issue that Mr. Gates feels is his "Carnegie" road to having a long lasting impact. But the reality is that, like his company, he will turn people against each other with little consideration for lasting relationships and their community value.

This leads to the SPS TIF grant. It is based on a false idea, like Microsoft used, that throwing small amounts of money and a new name will increase teacher effectiveness. The reality will be, like Microsoft, an increased inability to maintain momentum and an eventual dying of merit pay ideas.

Already we see that the West Seattle TFA principal is jumping the ship. Now watch as the remaining reformers begin to leave.
Jamie said…
Mr. Rice,
Thank you for your thoughtful and eloquent post. The demonization of teachers continues to astound me. I would love to see this in the Seattle Times as well.
MapleLeafer said…
But do you have to have a valid Birth Certificate--a Certificate of Live Birth is unacceptable.

In all seriousness, we live in a time when demonizing groups of people like teachers unions and attaching blame for all societal ills to such groups is quite commonplace - it's easier to blame others than accept responsibility yourself.
Jet City mom said…
it's easier to blame others than accept responsibility yourself.
Exactly what am I accepting responsibility for?
Anonymous said…
I spent about 16 hours grading mock AP exams this weekend so my students could get immediate feedback and kept thinking about these proposals to cut teacher salaries. Hah.

Thanks for breaking it down for all to see. Of course, many of us with less seniority and fewer degrees have a far lower base pay! This is not a good way to keep qualified instructors around.

-- Always Grading
Anonymous said…
Teachers I know work far longer hours than the school day, and I believe that they don't get paid nearly enough. That said, right now many folks would KILL for a fulltime job that paid $62K per year and gave them any benefits at all. I am an under-employed, Masters holding professional. I work part-time for a non-profit (no benefits) and contract out to try and make ends meet. I have no union at my side to protect my rights, or to advocate for me. I buy my own health insurance. The only thing we can afford is a bare bones, major medical policy. No dental, no vision, no prescription drugs. (Got a child with a non-life threatening, but chronic condition requiring daily medicine. That medicine went up 200% this month.) So no one, especially not me, is demonizing here. I am just pointing out a reality that many of us are looking at. It might be some of this bleak reality that many of us face is what drives the demonizing. Maybe it's just jealousy, and teachers seem to be an easy target.

signed, Just a thought
Chris S. said…
Mr. Rice, how many hours do you work in a week? I went to a forum at Seattle U (for teachers-in-training, which I am not) and I was amazed that all the teachers on the panel worked well over 40 hours a week - 50, 60 even. I thought "everyone in this room has got to be crazy!" I'm so grateful there are people who love working with kids so much they'll put up with all this.
MathTeacher42 said…
I know Mr. Rice from the career switcher program. We're even the same age!

I have quite different career experiences from Mr. Rice.

Do YOU Know what it is like to live on $8.50 an hour, and have a shot at $9.50 an hour or $10.50 or $11.50 an hour? I do, because that was what the pay rates were for cooks in fine dining in Boston during the 80's, and that is what I did for 5 years - I fed the affluent, the well credentialed, the well degreed, the well paid.
Do YOU know what people will do to each other to make another buck or 3 an hour? I do.

Do YOU want your kid's teachers spending their time doing each other in for a few bucks an hour, instead of teaching your kids?

There are concrete, logical reasons that society pays certain jobs above dog eat dog pay - reasons like ... it COSTS more society MORE for dog eat dog pay than doing the job well!

I worked at Microsoft about 10 years ago as a support serf.

How many of you saw the Seattle Times article about Microsoft's changing pay policies on Thursday 21 April?

The article talks about how they're changing the evaluation system, again, after changing it a few years ago, which was different from when I was there. The IT job market must be picking up. In the late 90's they went from stunning arrogance, to "oops! everybody is quitting to go to a dot.bomb & we better hike pay". After NASDAQ blew up they went back to arrogance, since they had people lined up for a job where the check didn't bounce.

Do YOU know what people will do to each other for a shot at a few more options or a bigger pay % increase? I do.

I don't care what Microsoft does with their evaluation system or how they pay people. OBVIOUSLY they haven't figured out any magic formula, because they have to keep fiddling with it.

I DO care that people like Gates think his high tech magic fiddling is going to ... do what in the public sector?

Let's get real. Those pulling the strings in the attacks on public workers don't want anything to work better, they want us all in dog eat dog pay schemes. The string pullers have been aided by many who mean well and who've been snookered by slick marketing and great soundbites. The string pullers have also been aided by the usual assortment of servile toadies who want their rewards for being good toadies. Finally, the string pullers have been aided by those too dumb to know what I'm talking about.

Among our local leading lites of ed-de-form, who belongs in which group?

HOW is this side show helping our kids?

Robert Murphy
(speaking as a citizen with relevant experience, NOT a representative of anyone or anything.)
Anonymous said…
This is why we need not demonize teachers as a group, but realize the benefits that teachers do get and part of that is job security is a thing to be earned and envied by those less fortunate not to have a union or a strong contract. We really should work together and make sure there is parity for workers in private and public sectors. Along with that-- to answer our critics, we should open ourselves to scrutiny re: our job performance.

I am not sure why in this discussion, it is always the big bad union or the big bad private sector. I would save the demonizing, if we must have demons, for those on Wall Street who perpetually find loopholes for personal gains and our country's financial detriment (last week's Treasury Dept exemption of foreign exchange swaps....banks got their wish to block more deritive rules). Can we not take the best of both world and make it work for all workers?

Anonymous said…
wc at 5:39.

when I voted for the "moderate" democrats in '88 and '92 etc etc, I thought I was getting people who wanted to make things work better - people who would take the best of both worlds.

what I got were a bunch of political incompetents, on a good day, and a bunch of brazen sell outs on most days. They've excelled at staying in charge, getting paid really well, and letting the country ride from 1 unsustainable bubble benefiting the top thieves to another bubble benefiting the top thieves.

and now they're education de-form-istas.

I wish they were helping us out in the classroom - they're just helping out their ivy'd up connected up privatizing privateer buddies.

Got The T-Shirt.
Just saying said…
Democrats have joined the union busting Republicans; not seeing much difference these days.
Salander said…
The larger issue is that an increasingly smaller number of individuals control a greater amount of money.

Those who no longer have access to the "American Dream", those in the manufacturing sector, have to blame someone so they blame their neighbors, their children's teachers, the unions, etc.

America is and has been for over a decade, a service sector economy. Many people do not have the skills to capitalize on this shift so blame their lack or fortune on those who do have the skills.

In the mean time, those on the very top of the sevice sector- bankers, IT,etc-profit in obscene amounts.
Anonymous said…
I would just say that the comment by Chris S expressing surprise that many teachers work more than 40 hours a week gave me a chuckle.

Most professionals work well over 40 hours a week. It's called being a professional, with a salary.

And many of those people, while certainly having a higher salary than teachers, also do not have a guaranteed retirement plan, they have astronomical health insurance premiums, and they have to work 12 months a year.

Teachers are doing an amazing job. They should be paid well, and should not have their pay cut. But, a little perspective on what the rest of us face in the private workplace is not out of place.

Signed, No name
Chris S. said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris S. said…
No name,
Any salaried employee who consistently works more than ten hours over 40 in a week in the corporate world and makes less than six figures (AND doesn't spend all day chatting or surfing) is being screwed.

My perspective is as a working parent with a working partner. Sometimes we do work extra -but too much and the home life goes to hell. Sure, a childless person or a worker with a partner doing the home/family work can work big hours - but not indefinitely. A workplace that does not enable work-family balance does not have a place in a sustainable economy - the children will pay. The mental health will pay.

Hmm, I wonder if that has any bearing on the debate on the performance of American students...and were talking about the relatively privileged here, salaried employees.
Chris S. said…
I'm also responding to all the comments I see at the places like the Seattle Times where people seem to think teachers work 6 hours a day, 9 months a year. Article I saw said 62% of teachers work 2 jobs!!! I couldn't believe that (still have to track it down) but as MR pointed out, summer school is a pretty common gig.

ps: a majority of teachers on the forum I referred to DID have working spouses and children. I would be very surprised if this were not generally true of teachers.
Anonymous said…
no name-
We are only paid for the days we work- no paid holidays, no paid vacation time (one or two personal days/year is it), no over-time, no comp time. Our salary is "annualized"- added up and divided by 12 and doled out over the year. All money withheld for our summer checks is kept by the district in their interest bearing account until they cut us our checks (they keep the interest earned) in the summer. Who in the private sector would allow this to be the way they are paid?

In the private sector, if your employer deducts time from your leave for partial absences, they also must keep track and comp you for any extra time you spend working for them... to keep things fair. For teachers, this is not the case. I have to have a sub, they cost money, my leave covers their pay. Comp time is not possible for us.

We also pay for our own PD. When I worked for a mutual fund company, they paid for any training I received for my job, plus all of my licensing requirements, fingerprinting, etc. Teachers cover their own costs for such things and are expected to do it on their own time- the summer or during breaks, or in the evenings and on weekends,...

There are times when I wish I could be a "free agent" and negotiate my own terms because the way we are paid is ridiculous.

Cut my pay by 3% and I will reduce my services by an equal amount. Sound fair?
Sign me
- "rich teacher" who lives pay check to pay check just like the rest of you!
Patrick said…
Wow. I am a state employee. I expected private sector pay to be much higher, but I hadn't expected how much better Mr. Rice's benefits were than mine are. Prevailing wisdom has been how much better public sector benefits are, but I see in at least this case it just isn't so.
Reuven said…
Thank you Mr. Rice for this thoughtful, informative and insightful post. I genuinely appreciate the personal and professoinal context.

I cannot state more strongly the lack of enthusiasm in the House for the Senate's push for a 3% salary reduction for teachers.

Everyone's calls, emails and outreach to legislators makes a difference!

Your partner in service,

Reuven Carlyle
State Representative
36th Legislative District
Joanna said…
This is a note to anonymous who wrote about his/her poor working conditions. As a society we have to get to the place where we acknowledge that your working conditions are not the ones we should promote. Perhaps under ideal circumstances our health benefits would not be related to our employment. Business can support correcting this set of circumstances. Union and public sector jobs set the standards. Why not think we all need good jobs where we can have pride in our work along with stability in our lives? Instability in the lives of citizens does not promote a democracy.

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