I am the son of teachers. My dad was a professor of psychology for 35+ years at Michigan State University. My mom was a Grammy-award winning choir director who taught at all levels of education. Growing up, I never was deprived of much. As public sector employees, they earned a reasonable salary and received reasonable benefits. They were home when I went to school, and they were home when I returned. Plus, they had summers off (though dad often taught summer courses).
So, I am quite intrigued and dismayed by the recent action of the Wisconsin governor toward public sector employees, and, in particular, school teachers.
Some may think that public sector teachers are getting rich off taxpayers. But, let's look at what compensation public sector school teachers do and do not receive.
Unlike most private sector employees, there is no promotional ladder to climb that promises higher compensation and benefits. A human resources professional can go from a specialist to a generalist to a VP of HR. An AP History teacher in 1995 will still be an AP History teacher in 2005, 2015, and 2025 (if they are still teaching). There is no corner office one can strive to achieve. He or she cannot aspire to the Senior Executive VP of AP History. At best, there will be negotiated salary increases from year to year.
Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers receive no double digit percentage raises for excellent performance. Kids score higher on the statewide test or on the ACT, the teacher is not going to be showered with incentives.
Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers receive no profit sharing when the school district does well.
Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers do not receive stock options that could blossom down the road. There is no IPO money available for the local high school.
Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers are not offered a 4-5 digit signing bonus to teach 4th grade science.
Unlike some private sector employees, school teachers do not receive significant perquisites at their workplace. My grandma's neighbor use to work at Stouffer's and her refrigerator was stocked with the latest food stuffs. Another friend worked for Chrysler and would get significant discounts on the latest automobile. School teachers don't get a discount on pens or erasers. There are no free Post-It Notes. Postal workers do not get stamps at a 40% discount.
Certainly, those who choose the teaching profession because they are passionate about what they do. They are not expecting an extravagant compensation package. However, a social contract developed over several decades that basically said please take care of our children, and we will provide you with quality health care and a strong defined benefit plan (which was a common benefit offering in the private sector as little as 30 years ago).
That social contract is in danger of being broken.
What is a school teacher really worth? Who will choose to teach your children as those rights earned over decades of negotiation are challenged and eroded?