Modesto Teachers Association exec: Salaries aren't what they seem

On April 3, The Bee published an article regarding teachers' compensation in Modesto City Schools. As part of the article, the salaries of 25 teachers making $110,000 or more were published.

The article implies that these teachers were paid based on the 2008-09 work year of 185 days. This is not the case.

Nine of the teachers on this list are special education teachers who either work contracts of 217 days at year-round schools or work additional days serving students with special needs through the Home Hospital Program.

Two teachers work extended hours with larger caseloads and a required summer school program at Beyer High's Advanced Path Academy. Other teachers on this list have special skills and work extensive hours in fields as diverse as agriculture (county fair projects), music and athletics.

In 2008-09 there were 98 teachers who earned more than $100,000. This year that number has dropped significantly. The highest paid teacher on the list published by The Bee, has seen his income fall by almost $11,000 this year. Compare that to Superintendent Arturo Flores, whose income has fallen by $5,112 for the 2009-10 contract year.

How can the school district persist in chanting the equity mantra when the superintendent, who makes $100,000 more than the highest-paid teacher, took a cut that is half as much as that taken by the teacher?

This year, teachers have taken a salary cut of 2.62 percent, but they have also taken a 20 percent cut in the stipends and hourly wages they receive for extra duty work.

Many coaches, both academic and athletic, make less than minimum wage given the extra duty hours demanded by their respective extracurricular activities. Compare that to central office administrators who took no cut in their mileage stipends. Overall, the average teacher's salary dropped by more than $2,000 from 2008-09 to 2009-10.

Comparing Modesto teacher salaries to those in other districts can be misleading because most districts contribute much more toward teachers' medical insurance costs. With the exception of an $1,800 yearly contribution by the district, Modesto teachers pay for all their health, dental and vision insurance. For a family of three, that means that more than $16,000 per year in premiums comes out of the teacher's salary.

For the 2009-10 year, when benefits are counted as part of the compensation package, the highest-paid Sylvan teachers make $248 per year less than Modesto teachers, while teachers at the top of the scale in the Stanislaus County Office of Education make $9,800 more per year than Modesto's highest-paid teachers.

In order to reach the top of Modesto's salary schedule, a teacher must have 31 years of service, a master's degree and the equivalent of three years of college credit and educational training beyond a normal undergraduate degree.

Incidentally, 332 of the 1,639 teachers in our bargaining unit have master's degrees. That level of education is the equivalent of many other highly trained professionals. Shouldn't teachers be paid as much as other professionals with like training and education?

The article also says that "teachers can give themselves an extra day off with pay." Teachers do have seven personal necessity days, but there are limitations on their use.

Specifically, the teacher contract states that these days "shall not be used for recreation, extending weekends, holidays or vacation." They may only be used for activities that are "unavoidable and cannot be taken care of during the regular teacher workday." These days, when used, are deducted from the teacher's yearly allotment of sick leave. They cannot be accumulated year to year.

Teachers in Modesto City Schools have already taken salary cuts this year. They will likely need to take more before the recession comes to an end.

To criticize them for the salaries they make is a wholly inappropriate tactic in these hard times. A community should be proud that its teachers are well paid.

It is the mark of a citizenry that understands the value of public education and is willing to ensure that our school system attracts the best and the brightest teachers available.

Hale is executive director of the Modesto Teachers Association.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star