While the title of this article may be a little dramatic, Minnesota teachers have good reason to feel threatened. In the past week, local newspapers have announced a proposed bill which could prove to be detrimental to the teaching profession, to our union, and to our pocketbooks.
A bill has been proposed to establish a statewide pay freeze for teachers in public and charter schools in Minnesota. This is what is known as a “hard freeze” in which no compensation is given for cost of living adjustments, years of service or graduate classes taken by teachers to improve their effectiveness, according to the Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune newspaper. Senator Dave Thompson (R), the bill’s sponsor, believes the bill would help school districts with their budget problems.
Under this bill, teachers would not get the raises they have earned and would, in fact, see their salaries go backwards, if my experience as a educator in the state of Minnesota is any indication.
The rising cost of family health insurance has eaten up any raises I have received during my past ten years of teaching, in spite of my years of experience, a masters degree and another semester of graduate classes taken beyond my masters degree. My take-home pay is within a couple of hundred dollars of what it was 17 years ago due to huge increases in the cost of health insurance premiums.
In fact, Tom Dooher, President of Education Minnesota, confirms that my situation is typical for Minnesota educators, stating in his January 25th editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper “like that of many other Minnesotans, teachers’ take-home pay has been falling for years, with any small raises more than offset by stunning increases in the cost of health insurance for their families.”
This bill doesn’t even address one of the biggest money-saving tactics the legislature could enact – a common health insurance pool for all state employees. The Minnesota Management and Budget office, as cited in Dooher’s editorial, says “that one move would save Minnesota taxpayers $179 million in just the first three full years of operation, with annual savings to grow and continue every year into the future.”
The bottom line with this proposed legislation is that the state, in the guise of “helping” local school districts, is making a decision for school districts. While Republicans, and in particular the Tea Party faction of the party, advocate loudly for local control, this Republican-sponsored bill would remove the option of negotiating with teachers from local school boards.
The average Minnesota teacher received a $17 raise last year according to the Department of Education as stated in Dooher’s StarTribune editorial. This type of minuscule raise has been pretty typical in the past 8 years since Governor Plenty’s “no new taxes” pledge began. And, yes, I’m aware that many people have lost their jobs in the current economy, and I am lucky to be employed. But teachers have to wonder how long the state budget will be balanced at their expense and the expense of their school districts and their students.
A much bigger help to ailing school districts would be to stop playing budget games which delay state payments to schools. These delays have caused schools to borrow money to cover their expenses and cost them even more in interest payments.
Minnesota teacher salaries already rank 21st in the nation. How does lowering salaries help meet the goal of hiring and retaining the best and brightest? Minnesota-trained teachers are highly recruited by schools in other areas of the country. Frozen salaries do nothing to help recruit or retain talented teachers for our state.
It seems that while we profess to place importance on education, giving lip service to a principle is not the same as supporting it.
Finally, how does this bill help the state’s budget shortfall of over 6 billion dollars? Short answer: it doesn’t. Teachers salaries come from local school districts. Freezing teacher salaries will have zero effect on the budget deficit state lawmakers face in this legislative session.
Minnesota legislators have a back-breaking job ahead of them in trying to solve our state’s budget woes. Why then the attention to this issue which will do nothing to ease our state’s financial issues?
It makes me wonder about the real political motivation behind this bill. Is the real political agenda here not so much to help beleaguered school districts but rather to harm the teachers’ union?