Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Let's Play With Some Numbers Once Again (Teachers style)

Back in December, I wrote a post "Let's Play With Some Numbers" based upon a mythical minimum wage worker and what that means in the line of taxes versus expenses. Today, I'd like to offer a similar "what if" based on teacher salaries.

Why you may ask?

Well, mainly because of some of the "ZOMG! Teachers get paid! And they receive benefits" gibberish I've seen the last few days concerning the "budget busting unions" and the "highly compensated teachers" of Wisconsin. As a side note, why are the anti-teachers people so adamant on tearing down the teachers and other public sector workers and their benefits? Shouldn't we be trying to raise things up so that folks in the private sector are once again getting reasonable pay and benefits rather than tearing people down to a lower level? Whatever happened to the desire to see folks from all walks celebrated for their work and paid a living wage?

My reference data is from this state-by-state starting salary for teachers, average, and 10 year percentage increase (looks to be from 2008). This site offers median salaries for various grade levels of teachers but I offer it only for further discussion and will use mainly the first link.

My mythical teacher is going to be a graduate of Wisconsin Stevens Point. This person will be a Wisconsin resident so will receive instate tuition. We'll pretend that our mythical teacher lived in a dorm for all four years (though I'd guess most juniors and seniors manage to find off campus housing with all of its attendant costs) and used the meal card. So our mythical student has costs of $6,304 per semester (rounding down), $12,608 a year and a minimum four year cost of $50,432. I'll pretend this student worked and got some help from Mom and Dad and maybe a small scholarship or two but still needed loans for say $30K. I'm sure there are students who financed the whole amount as well as students who had full parental support to students who managed full time jobs as well as full time student loads.

So here we have our mythical Wisconsin Stevens Point graduate starting a career as a teacher with $30K debt and a starting salary of $25,222. We'll assume our new teacher is getting paid twice a month for nine months so will have a pre-tax bi-weekly income of $1,401 (payday on the 15th and the end of the month). Taxes and such will probably pull that down to roughly $1K take home so we'll say $2K per month. We'll put our new teacher in a one bedroom apartment at $400 per month plus utilities which will average another $400 (gas, electric, heat and air conditioning, phone, and cable). I don't know what the loan periods are for student loans now so we'll pretend the loan period for the $30K debt is ten years and with interest our mythical teacher will pay back $45K. This works out to be $375 per month for ten years. And yes, that's for those months when our teacher is not working in the summer. At this point, our teacher has $1,175 of $2K per month for nine months committed without buying any food, clothing, car payments, insurance payments, school supplies or savings to cover the three months with no salary.

So our mythical teacher needs to work in the summer to keep the bills paid right? Well, maybe not. I don't know about our mythical Wisconsin teacher but many school districts and states across the country require teachers to make steady progress towards a masters degree within five years of starting their teaching career. Which means either night classes during the regular school year or summer school or both. And more loans. Some school districts do offer some tuition reimbursement assistance but I think only targeted at certain fields.

So now, our mythical teacher has gotten ten years into a teaching career and has not been scared away. Based on the first link way back in the third paragraph, our mythical teacher has progressed in base salary 21.5% to $30,645 (an increase of $5,423). This is still well below the "average" salary (which I'm going to increase to the figure being bandied about for Wisconsin teachers today of $49K). I'll even give our teacher a couple of merit increases for getting the masters degree and a little extra for extra curricular activity as girl's soccer coach. We'll say all of this puts our teacher at $40K ten years out of college, now with a masters degree and still paying for loans to cover the masters degree.

But what about the "benefits?" Aren't the benefits supposed to be super duper awesomeness? Well it would depend on the "benefits" package. One of the right wing sites I checked was complaining about the benefits for someone making $49K as another $24K cost to the school district. Back in an earlier life, one of my "other duties as assigned" involved doing some cost accounting cost proposals and planning for new work. One of our basic standards was that whatever a person's salary was, the benefits package doubled the cost, so it seems as if the school districts paying benefits that are fifty per cent of the stated salary are actually getting off a little on the inexpensive side. The "benefits" cost includes the employer contribution to FICA/Medicare. It presumably includes some portion of the health and life insurance, Unemployment taxes, employer retirement contributions, any continuing education benefits, and holidays. It's surprising how rapidly those items build up in cost so a benefits package that is at roughly half of salary is actually fairly good for the employer.

The bottom line with all of this is there is a lot of scare mongering going on against the teachers and the teacher unions. Teachers don't just work the classroom hours from 8AM to 3PM. They work the pre-class time, they work during lunch, they are conducting after school activities with the children or parent-teacher conferences. They spend their evenings grading papers and reviewing the lesson plans for the next day or they are at the school supporting formal activities, whether sports, music, drama, cheerleading or some combination of the above. They use their weekends to help the 4H club or the debate or drama clubs. They spend their own money to purchase the extra supplies that the school district can't or won't provide. They spend their summers in continuing education working on masters degrees and more.

And if you've read this far, then you should give a bit of thanks to those teachers who taught you to read and think for yourself.

Now for the record, my mother was an English teacher and librarian, her sister (my Aunt Pat) was an elementary teacher and Aunt Pat's granddaughter is an elementary teacher. My father's sister was a math teacher and two of her daughters were elementary teachers while a third was a special ed teacher. Why am I mentioning this? To let you know that I am predisposed to be on the side of the teacher.

And because I can:


  1. LOVE it, thank you :D

    -flaming maiden

  2. Very good article! I would suggest that many of the Expense figures are extremely low.

    I'm an Accountant who also runs Payroll. Just one correction...for a good Benefits package, the average cost of an employee is Salary plus 40% of Salary to cover Employer Taxes, Holiday, Vacation, Sick Days, Social Costs (401K, Health, Dental, Vision, LTD, etc), and Bonus.

    Overall, extremely well written and point made!

  3. @Gypsy Soul: Yeah, I was just basing the costs on how we figured them for proposals on DoD projects to gain at least a starting point for our bids

  4. And I tend to go very conservative on the expenses trying to give the nay sayers the benefit of the doubt. I did the same in my first "Let's Play With Some Numbers" post as well