Shared Sacrifice

MR. GREGORY:  Well, but again, if you’re talking about austerity, and you want to deal with this budget deficit, doesn’t there have to be a sense of shared sacrifice, that everybody gets hurt?

GOV. WALKER:  Well, there is.

      — Transcript of Meet the Press, February 27, 2011

Erin Parker wasn’t trying to become famous.   Erin is a 30-year-old second-year science teacher at East High.  During a protest at the Capitol, a teaching colleague of hers struck up a conversation with a colleague of New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel.  Gabriel was working on a story about the national backlash against teachers, and ended up having a long conversation with Erin about her thoughts on her profession.

Gabriel’s article was published in the Times on March 3, and – lo and behold –it featured the situation of Erin Parker.  According to the article:

Ms. Parker, a second-year teacher making $36,000, fears that under the proposed legislation class sizes would rise and higher contributions to her benefits would knock her out of the middle class.

“I love teaching, but I have $26,000 of student debt,” she said. “I’m 30 years old, and I can’t save up enough for a down payment” for a house. Nor does she own a car. She is making plans to move to Colorado, where she could afford to keep teaching by living with her parents.

After the article appeared, I heard from parents of some of Erin’s current students at East about how hard she is working and what a great job she is doing, a view enthusiastically seconded by East principal Mary Kelley.

I recently had a chance to talk to Erin.  She wanted it known that she is not interested in being the face of Wisconsin teachers, she is not complaining about her $36,000 salary, and, best news of all, she thinks she’ll probably be able to stay at East.

I recently wrote that because of some fortuitous circumstances, the Governor’s proposed budget probably will not have a calamitous effect on the Madison school district.  I based this opinion in part on my expectation that the legislation ultimately passed will require contributions from all the state’s public employees toward their retirement accounts, a change that should save our district about $11 million a year

Good for the district, not so good for our teachers.  Erin Parker’s financial situation, which she graciously shared with me, puts these figures in a real-life context. 

As the Times article mentions, Erin’s annual salary as a second year teacher is about $36,000.  Her take-home pay last month was $2,264.  (Like many teachers, she has chosen to be paid on a 12-month schedule.) 

There is much talk in some circles about our teachers’ health insurance.  Madison teachers have two options for health care:  the “gold-plated” WPS policy or the less-expensive Group Health HMO option.  Those who choose WPS must pay part of the premium.   Consequently, most new teachers choose Group Health.  Erin has a Group Health policy.  Her paystub reflects that the District pays $437 per month for her health insurance, plus $27 per month for dental insurance.  She has a $3 a month payment for her portion of the dental insurance premium.  So, Erin’s health and dental insurance costs the school district about $5500 per year. 

Erin also has about $26,000 in Stafford loans incurred to pay for her college education, plus $10,000 in additional college loans.  She has to pay about $300 per month on her student loans. 

The budget repair bill calls for all public employees to pay the employee portion of the state’s contributions to their retirement plans.  This works out to 5.8% of each public employee’s pay. 

The budget repair bill also calls for public employees to contribute more to the cost of their health insurance.  This provision does not specifically apply to our teachers because their insurance is not provided through the Public Employers Group Health Insurance plan.  Nevertheless, the Governor’s budget documents assume that school districts as well as all public employers will require this additional employee contribution as well.  The governor’s office estimates that this change will further reduce state employees’ salaries by about 4.2%.

So, the Governor wants to slice 10% out of teachers’ salaries.  For Erin, 10% of $36,000 is $3,600, or $300 per month.  If you assume that her take home pay, after student loan payments, is about $1950 per month, that works out to about a 15% cut in her spendable income.

Here are a couple of points that are kind of obvious but don’t seem to be mentioned much.

First, employee benefits are components of overall compensation.  It is the level of overall compensation that is of importance to employers and other decision-makers.  Teacher unions, like Madison’s MTI, have generally followed a bargaining strategy of maintaining benefit levels at the expense of higher wages. 

It is almost meaningless to criticize the level of employees’ benefits while ignoring their overall level of compensation.  I am a partner in a law firm and so I pay the entire cost of my health insurance and retirement plan.  Erin Parker has much better benefits than me.  I’m not much interested in swapping paychecks with her, though.  

Second, the proposed changes to public employees’ benefits do not change those benefits but increase employee contributions.  This translates into a reduction in compensation.  In other words, the Governor’s proposals are designed to slash public employees’ take-home pay.

Third, the state budget deficit is in no way attributable to greed-monkey K-12 teachers.  Teachers are employed by local school districts, not the state.  Each local school district’s budget is balanced each year, regardless of the amount of state aid the school district receives. 

Fourth, the Governor estimates the state’s budget deficit over the upcoming two-year biennium at about $3.6 billion.  (Others, including State Representative Mark Pocan, maintain that this figure is inflated).  While they are not state employees, teachers are targeted big-time to help the state balance its books.  According to the Department of Administration’s Budget in Brief,  the proposed “increase in school district employee contributions toward their pension and health insurance benefits [are] estimated to save nearly $1 billion over the biennium.” 

So, let’s recap how Governor Walker’s “shared sacrifice” is supposed to work by looking at its impact on two typical Wisconsinites, Erin Parker and, oh, let’s say me. 

As a lawyer in private practice, I make pretty good money.  I could easily pay an extra $300 per month in taxes to the state to help deal with the current budget crisis. How much more does the Governor want from me?  As far as I can tell: zero, zilch, nada.

Instead, every month he wants to pluck that $300 out of the purse of 30-year-old Erin Parker, by all accounts a wonderful new teacher, and thereby threaten her ability to support herself if she continues in the job she loves. 

Nearly thirty percent of the state’s budget deficit is to be made up by slashing the take-home pay of Erin Parker and her teaching colleagues around the state.  Zero percent of the deficit is to be made up by asking a little more from attorneys in private practice like me.

Most folks in this state have an inherent sense of fundamental fairness.  That’s why Governor Walker has to pay lip service to the concept of “shared sacrifice.”  But for the Governor, sharing the sacrifice really means that the politically-disfavored get hammered while the privileged remain untouched. 

This is not fair, and we know it with our hearts as well as our heads. And so people take to the streets, write letters, work on recalls, do whatever they can to express in whatever ways they can that this is not our Wisconsin.

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18 Responses to Shared Sacrifice

  1. Kristen says:

    Thank you Ed. Very well said.

    I will be attending the next few Board meetings as an observer to get a better sense of the ramifications for MMSD. I agree that it probably is not as dire for our city as for some of the rural districts. (Or Milwaukee.)

    But I suspect that the cuts will hurt the district more than we think, because they will disproportionately affect the children who attend MMSD public schools. Specifically, I am worried about:
    1) earned income tax credit cut
    2) cuts to Badgercare

    If we purposefully increase the number of children who don’t have access to healthcare or sufficient food/housing, the district will have more costs. (And our dedicated, underpaid teachers will pay even more out of their own pockets to feed and clothe their students.)

    I’m also worried about the increase in school choice programs. Don’t get me wrong – I love an innovative school program as much as the next person. Programs like Nuestro Mundo and Badger Rock are exciting and benefit our district. But the language in Walker’s bill is confusing to me – can a non-MMSD entity approve a charter school that we, the MMSD taxpayers, need to fund and you, the MMSD board, doesn’t oversee? I need more clarification there because that seems like a financial train wreck to me.

  2. BarbS says:

    Not only does Gov. Walker want to take money from the politically disfavored, he’s also telling her and other union members they can take the savings from their union dues to pay for his blatant unfairness.

    Wi is not broke but our leadership is when they unfairly target our hard workers and do not ask us all to share the burden. This is not who we are in WI.

  3. PK says:

    Maybe she should look at getting a summer job – perhaps teaching summer school? The 11 weeks of vacation time need to be accounted for someplace. If she wants to compare here $36,000 salary, then she needs to factor in the fact that she does not work a standard 12 months – with two weeks vacation.

    • Laura Godfrey says:

      Am a teaching 15 years, have two masters degrees and National Board teacher certification. If I work for the Madison Public school district in the summer school, I will earn $12.50 per hour for 30 hours each week, just like every other summer school teacher. That is before taxes. Summer school teachers, like most teachers, will buy pencils and paper for their students because they won’t come with them. Teachers buy students coats, food, and shoes.

      In summer school in Madison, we will sit in un-airconditioned rooms for two hours at a time working with the least successful students, trying to accelerate students’ learning to catch up to their peers. Who would volunteer to do this? Someone dedicated to the betterment of students and society.

      Summer school lasts 6 weeks. For 6 weeks, the teacher will gross $2, 250. So, if you add that to her $36,000 – Erin would now be up to $38,250.00. That has got to make you feel a lot better, knowing how high on the hog those darn teachers live. That is a great example of how valued teachers are in this society.

      • Conservative4Ever says:

        I’d like to see it proven that licensed teachers teaching actual educational summer school, not some “playtime” are paid $12.50/hour. My friend in our district made well over $25.00 per hour.

      • Conservative4Ever says:

        And I quote “We get paid on an hourly wage during summer school, which for me was about $35-$45 an hour. That hourly wage goes up for me next year because my income will be more since I would have one more year’s experience.”

      • Teachers in their first three years of teaching summer school in the Madison school district currently earn $409 per week. If you assume a 6.5 hour workday, that does indeed work out to around $12.50 per hour.

    • dk says:

      Um, yeah…I know her, and she does have a summer job (two, in fact). One of them is teaching summer school, (which, by the way, pays less than the starting teacher salary). But hey – great advice. Keep ’em coming – these are gold.

    • Greg says:

      Are you kidding Pk? Teachers put in more than enough hours to cover an eight hour work day over the so called 3 month vacation that you claim it is. Ask just about any teacher if their day ends when they get home from work, following supper, clean up, spending time with family, and getting ready for the next day. My second shift of work comes when everyone else has been taken care of. When does a teacher’s day end? When they go to bed! Do you have to go to school to keep your job? When do most teachers do this? During the summer! Get a clue. You have no right to comment on something you obviously know very little about. Udderly ridiculous!

    • Hey PK- As a MMSD teacher who makes $38,000/yr, I can say I work summer school, nanny, substitute for MSCR among many other odd jobs during my summer. I do not have an ’11 week vacation.’ Besides working over the summer so I can pay my bills and rent, I also prepare for the next year. I spent COUNTLESS hours during the summer in my classroom getting ready for the hundreds of kids who will filter through it throughout a normal week. You clearly have NO idea what the life of a teacher is. MOST teachers spend a lot of time preparing for the next school year during the summer, UNPAID. We do it because we love our students and we do what needs to be done so they are successful. Do you work 7:15am-7pm during the week? Do you work on weekends on top of that? I may get paid for 7:30-3:02 Mon-Fri, but I assure you, I put in WAY more hours than I am paid for. Your comment reveals an obvious lack of understanding for facts.

  4. Margaret Moore says:

    Thank you Ed. In the heap of disaster, our school district looks better than others
    when it comes to ramifications. But, I am a citizen of Wisconsin. Walker’s bill
    almost pokes fun at the possibility of getting anything done in Milwaukee public schools.
    The environmental impact is horrific. And even in Madison, the bill
    negatively impacts the options our high school kids will have as far as attending
    college. Some of our smaller state universities will have to cut entire departments.
    Thank you for putting out some sensible numbers, though. And thank you for
    recognizing the difference in impact on different socioeconomic groups.
    I am glad you are on our school board!

  5. Joanne Juhnke says:

    I agree with Margaret Moore — thank you, Ed, so very much. This spells it all out so clearly.

  6. Jeff Ziegler says:

    Thank you Ed for putting the issue in a context that most people should be able to relate to. Your post takes it from an abstract discussion of contributions for pension and benefits to a concrete understanding of what it will cost a young teacher trying to pay her bills like everyone else.

    I came up with my own proposal to balance the budget that I think is much more fair than Governor Walker’s proposal. I can’t say that my writing is as elegant or compelling as Ed’s, but you might want to take a look. You can find it here if you are interested: http://wmcourierenews.com/main.asp?SectionID=5&SubSectionID=5&ArticleID=3141

    And again, thanks Ed for this post.

  7. barb s says:

    Thanks Ed for this thoughtful piece – and, for pointing out the lack of shared sacrifice.

    No worker deserves to be put down; all workers build our society.

    We all need to help get us out of this extreme hole created by Wall Street, two wars and paying for tax cut bonuses, etc. Workers pointing fingers at one another won’t help. And I, for one, am not willing to fall into that trap… I already feel like I’ve been suckered – but not by workers, and especially not by our public service employees most of whom are hard workers.

  8. barb s says:

    correction to my last sentence – “…most of whom are hard workers.” not meant to be judgmental, so i’m editing myself and taking out most of whom and replacing it with who.

  9. Bryan G says:

    Mr. Hughes; Thanks for the enlightening article. But the School Board has great power to affect the impacts of the injustices imposed on all of us by the Walker bill. I am a Madison teacher. I accept the increase in health care, retirement and the discplinary actions for exchanging four of my teaching days to express my outrage against economic and social injustice. But what I find hypocitical is that in the recent agreement with MTI one bargaining unit was singled out to a wage freeze at 2009 levels (all others are frozen at current levels) and the opening of their contract next year (all others aren’t open until 2013.) It also happens that the members of those targeted groups are predominatley women and probably have the highest percentage of workers of color than all other bargaining units. If our School Board agrees with your indignation of the Governor’s irrational actions, and you have the power to maintain a semblance of fairness here, how could the Board approve this blatant act of discrimination against district employees?

  10. Carol says:

    Ed
    I have to say I do not agree with you or the teachers. I make less than Erin does at , $31,000 and I also have $20,000 in student loans. I pay 100% of my medical and dental. My cost is about $250.00 a month. I have read the collective bargining agreement for the teachers. 90% of single and family medical or dental is paid for by the district. If the disctrict is paying $437.00 a month for health insurance for a single person the district is paying way to much and is getting ripped off, but hey it is my taxes that pay for it right? I have the same dental carrier as the teachers, Dental Dental, again if they are paying $27.00 a month the district is getting ripped off, but again taxes dollars paying the cost again. Teachers work 192 days a year and get the summers off. Teachers can get a summer job and many business do hire them. They also can teach summer school and are paid anywhere from $300.00 to almost $500.00 a week. Teachers also are paid $9.50 an hour if they work sporting events as ticket sellers, takers or whatever needs to be done. Teachers have an out of pocket max of #250.00 if a genric drug is not avaiable, I have to pay the entire copay. Medical costs for a family which are paid include not only a husband or wife, but a domestic partner. This is something you will not find in the private sector. Teachers get paid if a good friend dies, an Aunt or Uncle. When my Aunt died I had to take vacation time.
    I have several single co-workers that make the same as I do. One co-worker does have student loans to pay for just like I do. She doesnt live with her parents and she has a car she pays for. So if Erin is making that much money and cannot afford to live on her own she is not managing her money.
    Erin is just starting out in her field, most people when they start out in a carrer area make the least when they are first starting out before they have experience.

    I would like to make a comment to Greg at this time. I went to school full time raised 3 kids and worked fulltime. I did not get the summer off to go to school. People that are teachers work no harder than I do at my job. If you did not like the pay then you should have refused the work.

    WEAC claims there are 98,000 members, 68,000 are educators. If the insurance and dental premium is $464.00 for a single person, of course it will have to be much more than that for a family, but you do the math on just those two items. This does not take in to account the money spent for bereavement pay above what the private sector gets, plus I believe they get 5 days and I only get 3. Money is really starting to add up and I have not even mentioned pensions. Oh lets not forget the state is responsible for collection of union dues. I am not sure of the cost to the taxpapers for this, but I am sure it is not cheap. The unions do not want the teachers writing out a check for union dues they may think twice about doing it.
    The unions have called for boycotts of certain business in the state that have had employees support Walker. Now we are getting to the heart of things. The unions are nothing more than a bunch of thugs. Watch the movie “Waiting for Superman” sometime and find out all about the teachers union.
    It is time teachers and state employees pay their fair share. I vote for Scott Walker and I for one am happy I did.

  11. Andrew Kirch says:

    Dear Ed-do you not think that the property taxpayers are taxed high enough? If you were really serious about saving the peoples money you would be contracting out groundskeeping work to private companies like Barnes, as most private business does in the area, and janitorial work could go to a nice local company such as Bluebird services, who do an excellent job. But no, you pay union wages and benefits for people to mow lawn, remove snow, and sweep floors???? Since when did a school custodian become a career position? How can I get one of those jobs??

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