I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tea Partyin' = Teacher Bashin'

Maureen Castriotta is no ordinary suburban school board member.

Castriotta serves on the Roxbury, NJ Board of Education, a high-performing system in Morris County. She urged the defeat of her own board's budget in 2011, and supported a slate of anti-union, cost-cutting board candidates (they lost).

Castriotta got into hot water with her fellow board members back in 2010 during Chris Christie's War On Schools. At the time, high school students in some districts were organizing protests against Christie's draconian school budget cuts. The Roxbury administration decided the best course of action was to allow a student protest but to manage it, hopefully creating a safer atmosphere than an unsupervised, spontaneous event.

That didn't sit well with Castriotta, who, allegedly, went to the high school and got up in the principal's and superintendent's faces. For this, the board censured her; essentially, it was a slap on the wrist. But Castriotta appealed the decision, and guess what? Then ACTING Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf vacated it; big surprise, huh?

This little brouhaha turned Castriotta into a minor celebrity of the New Jersey reformy crowd. Bob Bowden even turned her into a movie star, displaying a level of "balance" he must have learned from Fox News:

Nice job showing both sides, Bob...

For my part, I don't understand how someone who literally wraps themselves in the American flag can have such a problem with students exercising their First Amendment rights. But that's just me.

Castriotta is deep into conservative policitics. She's the Social Media Director for the New Jersey Taxpayers Association. She an independent candidate for Morris County Freeholder (where Chris Christie got his political start - notice the picture of the two of them hugging?). For all intents and purposes, she is a tea partier.

So when I tweeted this:
MT : "teachers shld get a living wage." That is a VERY low bar. Tchrs should get a PROFESSIONAL'S wage! 
It's no surprise that Castriotta responded:
  Why a Professional's wage? Whatever happened 2 public service? Teaching's a vocation contributing 2 greater good
Yes, that's right: this school board member does not think teachers should be paid like professionals. So I asked Castriotta whether she thought the teachers in Roxbury were professionals. By my count, I asked her this ten times before finally getting this response:
 they shld be paid based on merit like other professions. Want to be the same don't you?  
"Like other professions." That's the closest I could get to having her admit that her teachers are professionals. I'll bet the hard-working educators of Roxbury are just thrilled to have a member of their school board member stand so strongly for them...

In Roxbury, a teacher with a masters, 30 additional hours of graduate credits, and 15 years of experience will make $73,437 this year. Does that sound excessive to you? Keep in mind the following:
Teacher Salaries
c) Teacher salaries have actually declined with respect to non-teacher wages over time in NJ, even when comparing wages for the same number of hours and weeks worked, and at same degree level and age.
d) Despite a mythology that all non-teachers work every day of every week of the year and that teachers work about half the year, non-teachers actually report working about 48 weeks per year compared to teachers 42 weeks. Teachers worked about 87% of the weeks worked by other non-teacher workers in NJ.
e) Comparing different data sources (something I prefer not to do), teachers at specific experience and degree levels appear to earn an annual wage about 67% of that of their non-teaching peers – annually. Okay, but they don’t work as many weeks. So, they earned 67% of the wage for working 87% of the time. Still a significant disparity.
f) Teachers’ annual income return to experience (or age)  is well less than that of non-teachers over much of their careers. Assuming teachers and non-teachers start at a similar wage at age 23 with a masters degree (around $50k), by age 40, the average non-teacher will be earning over $100k, while the average teacher will be approaching $80k .
But that doesn't stop Castriotta from calling me, a teacher who advocates for a professional wage for professionals, "greedy."

And not just me; Castriotta called out teacher @rratto as well. He answers over at his terrific blog, Opine I Will:
This is a second career for me, I went back to school at 40 years of age, earned a MA in Education, did my student teaching for a semester without pay, completed an additional 33+ credits of graduate work, obtained  a professional certification in District Administration, and I’m beginning my 15th year of teaching.  Over the last several years 100% of my students have been tested as being proficient at or above grade level. I love teaching. 
I’ve also volunteered in numerous organizations in my community, covering senior citizens, business, youth and sports organizations.
I once was offered a teaching position in a Catholic School. The salary was $19,900. When I turned down the offer I explained to the good Sister that being a family man I just couldn’t pay my living expenses on that. She said I should look at it as a mission. I politely responded, then my community would have to start a mission to support my family.  Was turning down that job greedy?
No, it wasn't. Just like it isn't greedy for doctors or lawyers or accountants or engineers or managers or police officers or career military to demand that they be paid a wage that reflects the importance of their jobs and the education and skill necessary to do them well.

I bring all this up as an example. These people try and try to tell us that they love and respect teachers. They tell us how important our jobs are. They tell us they only have a problem with our "greedy" unions - you know, the organizations that got us our five-figure salaries and health care in the first place.

Folks like Castriotta and Chris Christie say over and over that teaching is a "calling," as if that's a sign of respect. The problem is that they then use this idea to denigrate anyone who suggests that, even if teaching is a calling, it is also a profession, and that teachers therefore should be paid and treated like professionals.

They can't stand, therefore, when professionals get together and demand that their already modest wages not be further eroded while the country coddles the ultra-rich. They call it "greedy" when a professional with years of experience doing an important job insists that the state keep its promises on pensions and health insurance. It insults their sensibilities that teachers aren't so full of self-loathing that they are willing to fall even further behind the rest of the college-educated workforce.

Tea partiers like Maureen Castriotta will always try to tell us they love teachers while sticking a shiv in our backs. Well, they can try to live with their self-contradictions, but they rest of us don't have to. I only hope the good people of Roxbury remember this woman's cognitive dissonance the next time they go to the polls.

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