Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ghost Teachers

What are "ghost teachers" and do they exist?

I mentioned before that in some States, public service employees, including teachers, are wildly over-paid.   Roger Ailes, before he went to the great muckracking newsroom in the sky, bought a local newspaper in "Upstate" New York, which his wife ran.   They took the ballsy move of publishing the salaries of all the teachers and employees in the local school system - during a discussion about raising property taxes in their town.   While a lot of people thought this was scandalous (although such salaries are indeed public record) many of the people in favor of raising their property taxes were chagrined to see that some public school teachers were making over $100,000 a year.   Administrators were making even more.   Hard to be enthusiastic about "underpaid school teachers" when in fact, the teacher is making a lot more than you are.   And we are not even addressing the cushy benefits, retirement plans, and three-month summer vacations.

But like clockwork, some lick-spittle from the teacher's union responds with, "Well, I'm a teacher and I can tell you that we are underpaid!"  But of course, that depends on your definition of "underpaid".  To some folks, making "only" $75,000 a years is underpaid.  And if both husband and wife teach, well, they are some of those 1%'ers you've been protesting against (particularly when you calculate the present value of their retirement plan, which if cashed in, would be well over a million bucks).

Somewhere along the way, public employees went from being the lowest paid to the highest paid, in many States and even the Federal Government.   The Patent Office is having a lot less trouble with turnover these days, as an Examiner's salary is about what a young associate makes these days - sometimes more.

According to the teacher's union, the average teacher makes above the median household income in the United States, or about $58,000 a year.  That's nationwide average, from the lowest State to the highest.   This also averages in new hires with older near-retirees.   As you can see, making over a hundred grand isn't fantastic - it's in the cards.  The average in the highest pay State - New York - is over $77,000.  And please don't bore me about the high cost of living in New York City - the cost is far lower in Buffalo, but the pay is the same.  The lowest, South Dakota, averages about $42,000 a year, which in a low-cost-of-living State like that, is a pretty good paycheck.  It also illustrates that the spread between salaries in high-paying and low-paying States isn't that bad.   It also shows that the myth of the "underpaid school teacher" is just that - a myth.   No one is eating cat food on these salaries.  And for a dual-income household?  They are far above the national average and median!

And I am not making these numbers up - they are from the teacher's union, which has every motivation to under-report income.   And under-report they do, as they don't mention whether these same teachers have summer jobs (many do).   They also don't mention administrative salaries, for non-teaching positions in schools - guidance counselors, principals, school superintendents.   In Central New York, I knew a guidance counselor who told me he had "the easiest job in the world" and made $75K - while his wife hauled in a similar check as a Spanish teacher.  Principals and School superintendents can easily bring in six figures - as much as a quarter-million or more for the latter.

The point isn't that I am "attacking" teachers, but that this mythology that teachers are underpaid is just bullshit union propaganda that has to stop.   The unions love this shit - particularly around contract negotiation time or when they are trying to organize a factory.  They will claim they are underpaid and over-worked, but often don't cough up real numbers.   Most of the general public are unaware what actual salaries are, and when they find out, are a little chagrined to think they took the sides of the teachers in a debate involving their property tax money.

It is like the students I knew at S.U. who took the sides of the custodians in a strike against the University.  Here we all are, borrowing money to pay tuition, and then taking the side of an $18-an-hour janitor, without understanding why our tuition was so high in the first place.   If anything, we should have been strike-breaking.    Some of those students are no doubt still paying back student loans and making less money than the janitors who they picketed for when they were undergraduates.

People can be pretty stupid about their own money.

But the antics of unions don't stop there.   Restrictive work rules mean companies have to hire 2-3 times as many people as they need, as each person is restricted to one job, and thus works only part-time anyway (but is paid full-time, of course).  And lets not even address the cushy benefits and retirement packages - something that is far beyond what private-sector employees can expect these days.

Another gag the union loves is the "union rep" or "shop steward".  This is a guy who works in the factory, or at least gets paid to come to the factory but often doesn't do any real work.  He often also is paid by the union, too.  It is a classic "no show" Tony Soprano kind of job, where you get paid not to work.  He collects a full salary as an employee (often at the upper end of the scale) but his day is taken up with "union business" - not actually working like the rest of us.

In the teaching profession, they call them ghost teachers.  And ghost teachers exist, but then again, so do ghost autoworkers, and ghost just-about-anyone-else in a union-run plant.   These are folks who are paid by the school to do nothing - and paid by the union as well.  They are supposed to represent the grievances of the workers to management, but this is not really a full-time job.  In fact, they spend most of their time doing nothing, which is good, because when they actually work, it is usually to cause trouble in the factory by stirring up discontent among the workers, particularly around contract renewal time.

Of course, if you mention this online to anyone, be prepared for a whole lot of damning and shaming responses.  The first is "You evil person!  What business is it of yours how much someone makes?"  The second is the "How dare you question the sainthood of the teaching profession?" kind of response.   Both are neat ways of dodging the real issue.

The real issue is, as citizens, we have a say in how our government is run - or should.  One of the largest sources of discontent in this country is that people feel that they pay taxes and vote, but that their wishes are not respected.  The government spends and spends, and often spends on bullshit.   Today, people working for the government make more than people in the private sector.  And this was not always the case.   When I entered the civil service in 1987, it was a low-paying job (compared to the private sector) but you had 100% job security - it was damn near impossible to get fired.   That was the trade-off you made, for a low salary.  Today, the public sector pays as much - and often more - than the private sector.  But the job security remains.

(This is changing, slowly.  A recent bill was passed making it easier to fire people at the VA.  It only took decades of incompetence for this to happen, though!  Sadly, the same work standards - that apply in the private sector - are not being implemented across-the-board in government hiring)

And in fact, even back in the "good old days" many public employees were doing pretty well.  As I learned when I went to Prep School, private school teachers often made less money than public school teachers.  That was in 1977 - a long, long time ago.

As taxpayers and voters, we should have a say in this.   And thus, it is our business how much a school teacher makes and whether we think this is a fair amount or not.  And clearly, school teachers are making good money today - maybe not becoming Billionaires, but clearly making more than the median income and in most cases, more than average incomes in America.  The equivalent cash value (using the 4% rule) of their retirement benefits (sometimes 75% of last year's salary!) would qualify them as millionaires - maybe two or three times over, particularly for a married couple.

And this is relevant as many municipalities are facing financial ruin - some States in fact are going bankrupt (like Illinois).   Governors who attempt to rein-in spending are being attacked by government unions (as in Wisconsin).  In other States, such as California, government unions infiltrate elected government bodies and vote themselves a raise - bankrupting towns (such as Bell, California) and stressing the State retirement fund.

So yes, we have a "right" to talk about this, and the shaming and damning are just attempts to divert the discussion.   In fact ,they are a sure sign that the opponent hasn't got a leg to stand on, in most cases, as they don't want to argue the facts or the numbers, as it means ugly truths would be known.

The second half of the equation is quality.   I guess we wouldn't mind spending this kind of money if we have amazing teachers who, like in the movies, teach ghetto kids to love calculus and Shakespeare.  The reality is often different.  There are a few "saint" teachers in every school, I suppose.  But there are more than a few "phoning it in" and often one or two (or maybe more) really horrible rotten people who should not be around children at all.   They are all paid the same, and no you can't fire any of them.   That's part of the discussion, too.

So what's the point of this?   Well, don't fall into the trap of generating a knee-jerk response to stimuli.   When someone blathers on about "underpaid teachers" tell them the real deal - teachers make a good living, and some in fact, make more than you do.   Similarly, when you see that bumper sticker that says, "If you can read this, thank a teacher!" you should cry "bullshit!" as loud as you can.  It is again, part and parcel of this "Saint Teacher" nonsense, trying to get us to believe that certain members of society are indispensable.

The reality is, if you ate today, you should thank yourself, not a farmer, as you earned the money to buy that food, and the farmer earned money to grow it.  He isn't running a charity, he's running a business.  And he hopes you buy his food, or he goes out of business.   And if he decided to quit or go out on strike, we'd hire someone else to grow our food, as there is no "secret" to it.   The same is true for teachers.  If a teacher quits, there is someone else who can teach you to read, trust me.  The key is more of wanting to learn so much as having a great teacher.   In fact, you can learn things out of a book, once you learn to read, sans teacher.

With municipalities going bankrupt and property tax bills running into the five figures, something has to give.  We cannot run a government where nearly every expense is roped "off limits" to cuts or discussion.   If we do this, eventually, government will become the largest employer and the largest part of our GDP.   And to that end, we'd end up basically becoming a Communist country.

But maybe that's what some people secretly want, and are trying to accomplish.  Maybe.