Part of the Wichita Eagle Opinion Watch series. Audio is available here.
The school bond issue in Wichita and those occurring in surrounding districts overlook one crucial necessity: a fair wage for teachers. They are critically underpaid for all levels of education, service and abilities. (From The Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, April 27, 2008)
This writer is misinformed on several levels.
First, bond issues such as the one proposed by USD 259, the Wichita, Kansas public school district, are usually reserved for capital expenditures, such as constructing buildings. Ongoing expenses such as salaries are not considered as part of a bond issue. The writer might also remember that in August 2007, the Wichita school district raised property tax rates to pay for an increase in teacher salaries.
Then, who can determine what constitutes a “fair” wage? I know of no teachers who were forced to accept the jobs they filled. We can only presume that both the teacher and the school voluntarily entered into an agreement, with the wage to be paid as part of that agreement.
But the issue might be a little more complex. For one thing, most public school teachers work under a collective bargaining agreement which specifies the wages to be paid for teachers, based on their length of experience and educational credentials. There is little or nothing that most teachers can do to escape that pay scale. It works both ways: there are excellent teachers who are underpaid compared to the value they generate through their efforts and skill. At the same time there are poor teachers who are overpaid when compared to good or average teachers.
Related is the fact that public school teacher wages are not set in a free market by willing participants on both sides. Whenever teachers get a raise, it is inevitable that letter writers and opinion line callers will express outrage at having to pay for a raise in teacher pay. That’s characteristic of coerced transactions: many taxpayers don’t like to see their taxes go up. But that’s usually the only way that public school teacher pay can be raised.
The public schools, also, have the same problem as does any public agency: they are not able to perform economic calculation to properly evaluate their use of resources. They are not able to calculate profit or loss, so we really don’t know if they use inputs — such as the taxpayer funds used for teacher salaries — wisely.
Besides, the myth that teachers are underpaid relative to other jobs has been exposed for just that. Jay Greene, in the book Education Myths, reports that based on U.S. Department of Labor data for 2002, accounting for the number of hours worked, school teachers earned about $31 per hour. That is more than architects, economists, biologists, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, and chemists.