They Could be Heroes

Posted on 30 January 2009

One of the reasons people move to the East End is for our excellent school system. Our students have remarkable tests scores, and many of them go on to attend top level public and private institutions. These achievements are due, in no small part, to the amazing teachers in the Sag Harbor School District.

We commend local teachers for their abilities and the amount of effort most of them put into their position, but we believe a different model for calculating pay increases needs to be considered.

Teachers and public employees everywhere have relied on pursuing parity with their peers to justify one aspect of their pay raises. Teachers, as well as other public employees like police, receive annual contractual pay increases and so-called steps based on furthering education. When renegotiating a contract every few years, base salaries are regularly boosted to, arguably, come into line with what peers are making in other districts or municipalities. While we have no problem with our local public employees making a good wage, and receiving pay and benefits comparable to their peers, this pursuit of parity is self-propagating — one settlement continues to drive up the other settlements — and rarely has any relationship to other salaries in the community in which the public employees serve.

It’s not the teachers (or the cops), it’s the system that makes it unfair to the people who have to earn the money to pay the salaries.

In response to an article about teacher contract negotiations posted on our website, one local resident wrote “Yes, they, [the teachers], work very hard – - but so do I. And I work all 12 months of the year. My earnings are down 50% today from a year ago. I know it would be almost impossible to take back anything from any union people, but to grant ANY increases when the town and residents are living with less isn’t justifiable. Most of us in the Harbor struggle just to put food on the table and pay the mortgage.”

And, unfortunately, that story is repeated throughout small towns across the East End, the state and the country.

A teacher’s base pay in Sag Harbor is $46,000 a year even if they only have a bachelor’s degree. There are some people in this village who have worked 20-plus years and still don’t earn that kind of salary.

Of course many public employees are professionals, and need to be compensated well for their services. We trust our children’s education to some of them, we trust our lives to others. They have devoted years to schooling and training and deserve salaries that are higher than some, not as high as others. Think of store owners, or carpenters, or artists, or bank tellers. People who make up the fabric of the community and who woke up last September to find that their retirement savings had disappeared. And those who still kept jobs found that their wages had been frozen, or their hours at work cut back. We know of very few people who are expecting much of a raise this year. Or next.

We’re not suggesting that teachers salaries be frozen. We’re not suggesting staff  be cut. We’re suggesting that teachers could be heroes if they broke from the cycle of pursuing parity with their peers, and instead looked at the community in which they work and accept an increase similar to that which local workers can expect.

 

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One Response to “They Could be Heroes”

  1. Bill says:

    Bryan,

    The base salary afforded teachers in the district hardly seems egregious when compared with the Sag Harbor median individual income of $69,336 and median household income of $101,278 [New York Times online Real Estate section].

    It appears that the $46,000 number puts them near the low end of the local income spectrum.


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