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In defense of teachers’ pay in Manteca

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POSTED February 9, 2009 4:20 a.m.
Virginia Garrett was my freshman literature and senior English teacher in high school.
She also was the drama advisor who surprised the world by making me the lead in the senior class production of Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water.” Not only could people clearly hear me as well as the fact she actually got me to speak slower than my usual Fed-Ex spokesman delivery, but she succeeded somewhat in teaching me how to act.
Mrs. Garrett was also our neighbor.
She was what one might call old school. She insisted upon her freshmen students reading the classics – “Beowulf”, “War and Peace”, and choice selections from Shakespeare to Chaucer. Mrs. Garrett required essays on every chapter and grilled students religiously in class. She graded every handwritten paper and often wrote long and extensive notes challenging assumptions and questioning whether there was a better way to state a point with better wording.
Mrs. Garrett would routinely spend two to three hours during the school week pouring over papers as well as part of the weekend. When she had a play production – which happened twice a year – she went into overdrive.
She’d take it upon herself to expose students to professional plays and book readings. It was something that required her to organize weekend field trips- which she didn’t get paid extra to do - as Placer County wasn’t exactly a hotbed for such events.
For this, she earned $17,000 a year plus a $400 stipend for serving as drama advisor. Rest assured the pay was about mid-range of the day. You don’t get rich being a teacher especially if you treat it as a calling. Those who work at Wal-Mart, NUMNI, or build houses all pursue honorable professions. They are paid, however, for every minute they are on the job. That is not the case for teachers.
Is $60,000 too much compensation for a teacher with experience who devotes many more hours than just in the classroom to the students they teach? Keep in mind some figures you see bantered about when it comes to compensation includes health benefits and such. Take 20 percent or so of the top and compare that to your pay. So is $48,000 too much to pay a teacher in a community like Manteca where the median household income is $62,000, which, by the way, does not include benefits but simply straight-forward salary?
Much adieu is being made by some that Manteca and California teachers are paid higher when compared to national averages. Now that’s a surprise. California has the second highest cost of living among the states after Hawaii.
Keep in mind if Manteca Unified teachers take an 8 percent pay cut as some have suggested instead of the school board wrestling with much more complex decisions that will make them unpopular with certain segments of the community, it will actually be closer to 10 percent. Their share of paying for health care costs may go up plus they will also end up losing already agreed to cost-of-living adjustments.
What does this mean? A beginning teacher makes $38,875 a year. Cut that by 8 to 10 percent and you’re at $35,000. This state requires five years of college. That means a big student loan to pay off. Teachers also have living expenses to worry about like everyone else.
It also seems reasonable that teachers should be able to make more money each year? If not, who could afford to become a teacher? Yes, there are those who look at a $60,000 salary for someone with 25 years of experience and view it as obscene. The question is obscene compared to what?
These are tough times.  Those trying to make a case that teachers are paid too much by pointing to what they consider are the shortcomings of those who graduate from public schools conveniently ignore the facts they trust their lives often to others who are younger and who are products of the California public school system from doctors and nurses to engineers and countless other professions.
Yes, there are mediocre teachers out there. There are bad teachers out there. It is true of any profession.
Does it bother me that there are teachers who make more than I do? No. Does it bother me their beginning pay is higher than someone going into reporting? No.
Public education is the foundation that has allowed America to blaze trails in so many fields whether it is health care, agriculture, avionics, military weapons, computers, electronics – you name it.
In the overall scheme the money we invest in compensating teachers who in turn prepare this country for the future is a bargain.

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