Monday, October 15, 2007

Entitlement Pay in the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District

In a fluid labor marketplace, salaries and benefits are determined by supply and demand. An employee’s value is determined by expectation of performance and the opportunity cost of replacing him. In the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District (MARSD), salaries are set according to each teacher’s level of education and years of experience. Performance is irrelevant. Replacing a teacher with a lower cost individual has become unconscionable. The system has worked fantastically for teachers but horribly for taxpayers. Entitlement pay in the schools must be ended.

Patricia Catalano has been a kindergarten teacher in MARSD for the past 20 years. Due to her long service, she earns over $80,000 per year teaching 5-year olds. After payroll taxes and benefits (approximately 35% on top of salary), her total cost to the taxpayer is about $110,000, over $600 per school day.

But she’s not alone. Among the 13 kindergarten teachers, 4 earn salaries over $80,000.

Betty Voorhees earns over $80,000 and costs over $600 per day (like the kindergarten teachers) for teaching typing and word processing.

Supervisors earn about $110,000 and each cost the district about $150,000 per year, not counting their secretaries who each earn about $50,000.

Certain departments, at first glance, also appear a bit bloated. The speech correction department costs the district about $500,000 per year. We pay about $4.3 million for remedial education, $1.5 million for special education, and several hundred thousand more to send children offsite for special needs. Another million is needed for school social workers and psychologists. On the flip side, the school district spends about $750,000 on physics, biology, chemistry, and computer science combined.

The district has 23 health ed/gym teachers with salaries ranging from $42,000 to $85,000 plus benefits. The athletics director and his secretary together cost the district north of $200,000.

Of the ten music teachers, six teach singing. 5 Italian teachers but only 2 French teachers. 7 guidance counselors, 4 substance abuse counselors, but only 3 computer science teachers, 2 chemistry teachers, and a single physics teacher.

The average teacher earns 10% above the median income for Matawan/Aberdeen, receives a benefits package unheard of in the private sector, and works 25% fewer days. Senior teachers earn practically double the salary of a starting teacher and cost nearly twice as much as teachers in the Catholic schools.

The salaries cannot be justified based upon performance as was amply demonstrated in my earlier article, The Matawan Man-Eater. If education is a priority, why are there more drug counselors than computer teachers? Why do we dedicate more resources to teaching singing than to teaching how to play a musical instrument?

The answer is that politics, like water, takes the path of least resistance. It’s easier to give annual salary increases than to fight over whether the person is deserving of the increase. It’s easier to hire additional drug counselors than teaching physics. It’s easier to simply churn out graduates than to actually try to educate them.

The counterargument is that we need to pay high salaries to attract good teachers but the Catholic schools seem to disprove that.

As parents and taxpayers we have an obligation to demand more. Here are the steps we can take:

  1. Require that 65% of all funds be dedicated to classroom instruction. (Presently 44% of funds are used for administrative and overhead costs.)

  2. For all teaching positions, narrow the salary band so that experienced teachers can only earn up to 50% more than new teachers

  3. Track teacher performance to reward better teachers and remove poorer teachers. (In a future article I will discuss how teacher performance can be measured. I suspect there is little to no relationship between a teacher’s pay and his performance.)

  4. For all new teachers, align the benefits package to what’s found in the private marketplace

  5. Refocus the school’s priorities so that education becomes the most important objective

  6. Set higher expectations for teachers and students

  7. Set educational and financial targets for the Superintendent
I don’t care that certain political interests will oppose this move. It’s time to hold our school board responsible for the mess they’ve created. The schools are here to serve the community, not the staff. Teachers are not entitled to high paying jobs. They should earn their keep like everyone else. >>> Read more!

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