May 18, 2005

I want to be a teacher

CNN reports that teenagers rank teaching high in Teens’ top 10 career choices.
Even in a time of strong educational reform and change and criticism targeted at a schools, We’re still doing a good job inspiring students to continue in the tradition of teaching. I’m a bit saddened when I hear teachers say, “I’d never want my child to go into teaching.” Somethings wrong when I hear that kind of talk.
That’s why being part of the blogging community is so great. While we don’t sugar coat the profession, the discussion is encouraging, innovating and inspiring. Reading my feeds each day always challenges me. My sense is that it’s these type of teachers are the ones putting the most influence on our students and these poll results are evidence of this influence.

Besides, if you work in New York, you might be making over $100,000.

I’ve pasted the article below for those that don’t subscribe to the New York Times:

TEACHING has always been known as a noble calling, but as affluent parents and administrators strive to give their children every possible advantage, it has also become a better-paid profession than in the past, with thousands of public school teachers in the New York suburbs now earning more than $100,000 a year.

The salaries, among the highest in the country, are paid only to the most experienced teachers, with the most education, in an area where the cost of living is notoriously high. But they are high enough to have raised the ire of some taxpayers, who are making it an issue in budget votes on Tuesday.

One in 12 teachers in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties now earns more than $100,000, and the ranks are growing fast, according to an analysis of state data by The New York Times. On Long Island from 2001 to 2003 (the most recent figures available), the number grew fivefold, to 2,800, including 498 elementary school teachers, 29 physical education teachers and 83 kindergarten teachers.

School administrators say that the salaries are needed to attract and keep the best teachers. But the proliferation of the higher salaries, combined with recent increases in medical insurance costs and the fact that teachers retire with pensions based on these salaries, is straining local budgets. Last year, 46 of 124 school district budgets were rejected on Long Island.

Whether this trend is improving the quality of education and children’s futures is a subject of debate. Many of the top-paid teachers are in wealthy districts with high-performing schools, like Manhasset. But many are also in districts with little wealth and struggling schools, like Central Islip.

Still, critics of the salaries as well as those who consider them necessary agree that the image of teaching as an altruistic, low-paid occupation is no longer the case in the suburbs. A family with two public school teachers can earn enough to put it in the top 4 percent of families on Long Island.

Six-figure teachers are not unique to the New York suburbs. Connecticut officials reported about a dozen in 2004, and news reports indicate that some Chicago suburbs pay that much. But the highest salary for New York City teachers is $81,232, and only a handful in the rest of New York State are paid as well. In California, the highest teacher salary in 2003 was well under $100,000, according to state figures.

A teachers’ union official said that the salaries have to be high. “I think it’s only fair to say that given the cost of living on Long Island, and the cost of housing, it would be impossible to maintain a teaching staff at anything less than what’s currently being paid,” said Richard Iannuzzi, a former Central Islip teacher who is the president of the New York State United Teachers.

But teacher salaries on the Island have increased faster than those of other workers, and school officials worry that this will affect the outcome of budget votes on Tuesday. The median salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years’ experience increased about 4 percent a year from 2001 to 2003. The average salary for all full-time workers on Long Island during that period went up about 3 percent a year, according to Census figures.

“It’s going to be a very tough time for school budgets,” said Edward Walsh, the vice president of the East Islip school board. “People are in a squeeze, and when it’s a tough time, it’s supposed to be a tough time for everyone.”

Teachers point to their years of training and decades of service as justification for their salaries.

“There’s a lot of people out there who make a lot more than I do,” said Patricia Daniello, 53, an East Islip teacher at the pinnacle of her profession – 30 years’ experience, a master’s degree with 90 hours of additional credit, and a $116,772 salary. “Do I think my salary is high, based on what I do for children and the amount of education I have in my background? No, I do not.”

But some taxpayers in her district disagree. Ms. Daniello is one of more than 100 teachers whose six-figure salaries appear on a list circulated to voters by the East Islip TaxPac, a group campaigning against the district’s proposed 8.8-percent tax increase.
We’re trying to convince people that our teachers and teachers’ union and administrators do not have the children’s interest at heart,” said Richard Graham, a member of the anti-tax group. “The people who couldn’t do the engineering, and anything else that required some brain power, became teachers, and they now have $100,000 salaries.”

One out of five East Islip teachers makes $100,000, which ranks it eighth on Long Island in the number of teachers earning six figures. The Manhasset school district has the highest proportion of teachers earning over $100,000, with 32 percent. Statewide, about 2 percent of teachers are in that category. The numbers include teachers who act as part-time administrators.

“The historic perception of a teacher is as an underpaid person,” said Nerina Sperl, who lives in the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District and who opposes its proposed 15-percent budget increase. “That’s not true anymore on Long Island.”

Great Neck school district officials like to point out that both of their high schools made Newsweek’s recent list of the best in the nation, and that the district is willing to pay to achieve such results. “Our parents want to have the best teachers available to the kids,” said Lawrence Gross, the school board’s president.

The median salary for teachers in Great Neck is $85,007, and 24 percent make $100,000 or more, the fourth-highest percentage on the Island. The highest-paying district in the state is Scarsdale, where the median salary is just under $98,000, and 43 percent of teachers make six-figure salaries.

In Great Neck, administrators don’t like it when they lose teachers to other top districts, and they believe taxpayers want it that way. “The people here are very concerned about their taxes, but they want results,” Mr. Gross said. “Nobody has ever come in and said we’re paying our teachers too much.”

But in Central Islip, where 40 percent of families with children in the schools are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, the high school is on the state’s list of schools needing improvement. Nearly one in five teachers in Central Islip makes $100,000 or more, and Yvette Camacho, a school board member, says “Our taxpayers cannot afford them.”

“Our taxpayers are your average Joes who work two jobs to pay the mortgage,” Ms. Camacho said. “We have wonderful teachers. But some are not wonderful, and they’re making $115,000.”

The teachers are covered by contracts that reward those who stay in the profession with steady increases every year for 25 years, or more. Teachers who earn higher degrees also get additional pay.

“It’s the people who’ve cared enough to get extra training who are at the top,” said Phyllis Carlson, 56, a school psychologist with a doctoral degree whose $125,000 salary puts her at the top of East Islip TaxPac’s list of teachers.

Districts on Long Island negotiate independently with their teachers, but negotiations always involve comparisons with nearby districts, so even poorer districts, where the tax base is limited, are under pressure to pay well.

“What happens during negotiations is the unions gather information from other districts, the central administration gathers information from other districts,” said Michael Wolpert, an assistant superintendent in Central Islip. “If the average is 3.5 percent, they want to do better than that, and we want to do our best not to exceed that.”

Mr. Wolpert said he hoped that costs would decline in Central Islip in the next few years as teachers earning the most retire. The district has many young teachers, so its median salary, about $61,000, is below average for the island. Most of the teachers earning $100,000 or more are in their early 50’s and are approaching retirement.

Typically, they have 30 years’ experience, almost all in the same district, according to state records, and about half have at least 30 hours of credit beyond their master’s degrees. But a growing proportion of those making six figures, now about 15 percent, are in their 40’s.

Robert Shallow, a social studies teacher in Great Neck who makes more than $100,000, said that young teachers still struggle to make ends meet.

“I know people who are working their tails off, and they’re taking home $49,000 or $50,000, and they’ve got two kids,” said Mr. Shallow, who is 63. “And I think, it took me 40 years to get to the six-figure bracket. I hope it doesn’t take them that long.”