I realize the economy sucks everywhere, and ours isn't the only school district that is feeling the pinch. We have had several years of furlough days, and it's sad that we've come to accept them. Seeing that little minus sign on my check stub every month doesn't sting as much as it used to; we've become numb to it.
(By the way, we don't have teachers' unions, so we have zero power. Zilch. Nada.)
I have to admit that ever since I made the decision to retire at the end of this year, I've wondered if it's the right thing to do. It's not that I question walking away from teaching, but the uncertainty of how it will affect my finances has made me hesitate. Briefly. Very briefly. After all, what does 60% of my salary look like? By the time you cancel out some of the withholdings (like teachers' retirement) and add back some other things (like health insurance), what is the final dollar amount going to look like? I'm not worried about not having enough money to live; I'm concerned that I won't have enough money to play.
Our county has been going through budget meetings (and meetings and meetings and meetings), and the most startling thing that came out yesterday was that the school district would be going to a 160-day school year instead of the traditional 180-day year. There will be more holidays and time off, but the days will be longer. I think teachers at our school will be required to be there from 7:30 to 4:30 every day. Because the change doesn't affect the total number of hours of instruction, teachers' salaries won't be impacted.
My first question was about substitute teachers. They already don't get paid squat, and now we're going to ask them to work a 9-hour day? Will their daily pay be increased? I'm betting not.
The people who will be most affected by the change in the school calendar are some of the ones who can least afford it. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, those whose salaries are determined by the number of student days, they will be losing 20 days of pay. My hairdresser, for example, works part-time in one of the middle school cafeterias just so she can carry insurance for herself and her husband. She told me once that she gets paid twice a month; one check is something like 38 cents and the other is 55. Our county is not going to pay anything toward health insurance anymore, and she's losing 20 days of pay, so does that mean she's going to have to pay THEM to work in the cafeteria? I realize the health insurance is still a bargain if you compare it to having to provide it all by yourself, but how demoralizing is it to work half a day in a cafeteria and then OWE MONEY?
My sister-in-law also works in one of the school cafeterias. She has been a temporary full-time employee for FIVE YEARS. She's full-time, but because she's "temporary," she gets no benefits. At all. She exists with no health insurance whatsoever. And now they're going to take away 20 days of her pay too.
Our neighbor across the street is a bus driver. What more thankless job is there when it comes to the school system? She will also lose 20 days of pay.
Some of the powers-that-be keep saying next year is going to be the worst, that we have hit bottom, that things will start to improve, yada yada yada. Personally I think it's just something they say to make themselves feel better.
For the past few years our teacher contracts have been worded in a very nebulous manner. To paraphrase, "you will work for some undetermined salary at a location that may be determined by school district officials for x number of days." This year the contracts didn't even have the x number of days. The contracts have NOTHING in them, yet they are binding. Sign it, or turn in a letter of resignation. And if you sign it, it is binding. You can't get out of it if you were so luck as to get another job in a county that has somehow hit the lottery and can afford to hire you.
One thing that makes me feel better about my own uncertainty is a fact that is sad, sad, sad. We haven't had any state pay raises in at least six years. The teachers' retirement fund, however, gives retirees a little better than 3% every year, 1.5% every six months. My friend Rozmo retired from teaching in 2004, and by 2011 her pay had reached the same level she was making full-time when she retired.
I could stay and wait out the hard times. But I think I've picked a good time to go.