Can you spare a teacher a dime for breakfast?

In today’s Gazette, Debra Wolf bemoans the fact that, after she took a first-time teaching job in Hampshire County, she couldn’t afford to buy herself breakfast. Let’s look at the facts:

1. She was commuting an hour and a half from western Maryland so she could live near family and friends. Not sure what she’s driving, but that’s gonna be a helluva gas bill for anyone. (BTW, a Google map search shows the drive to Romney as being only 52 miles. I’m not sure where her teaching job was, but I could do that in under an hour easy)

2. Her starting salary in Hampshire was $28,000. I know folks working in state government with Master’s degrees who aren’t making that much. The reason? They started a long time ago, when salaries were lower, and raises are not automatic like they are for teachers. Merit raises for state workers have been frozen through the last two administrations; the only way to get a raise is to change jobs, or work outside of the Executive branch.

3. It says at the end she turned down a job in Wyoming at $44K, but it also refers to that as a “hard to hire” area. I wonder why?

4. Her students said she made less than school bus drivers. Beginning drivers? Does someone have the salary scale handy?

Yes, teachers can use a raise, but so does everyone else in state government. $28K for a first time job right out of college with one semester experience working under a full time teacher (not exactly great credentials) is nothing to sneeze at. It’s too bad she wanted to live in MD and not in the area she was going to work in (I wonder if rent would have been cheaper in Hampshire?), but I hardly think this is a good example of why teachers need a raise any more than other state employees.

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5 Responses to “Can you spare a teacher a dime for breakfast?”

  1. Underpaid Attorney Says:

    I went through a similar thought process as you when I read that column. I agree that all state employees need a raise, not just teachers. I’m not unbiased, since I am a state employee. I know we get a bad rap, but I work my butt off and really enjoy my job. I just wish I was being paid a fair salary for what I do. The issue of the freeze on merit raises is one that really raises my hackles and actually, changing jobs doesn’t necessarily get you a raise.

    Here’s my sob story (which I’m telling anonymously, so sorry for the vagueness in some spots): My first job out of law school was with a state agency that paid me peanuts — I started out at $32,000. Let’s review — starting salary for this teacher was $28,000 and starting salary for me, a lawyer, was $32,000. Does not compute. I have a very large student loan debt that I’ll probably be paying off until I’m in my 50’s. My boss was able to get me a small raise by promoting me from Attorney 1 to Attorney 2, which I believe is a loophole they have since closed.

    When I finished law school, I wanted to work for a different state agency for which my educational and employment background is perfectly suited (I concentrated in an area of law that is exactly what that agency does), but that agency wasn’t hiring at the time. I worked at the first agency for two years and was making $36,000 by the time I left to take a job with the second agency, which was hiring by that time.

    I was told in my interview with the second agency that I’d be making in the low 50s, probably around $52,000. However, when I was officially offered the job, I was told that because of the freeze on merit raises, they wouldn’t be able to pay me any more than I was making in my current job, $36,000. The person who interviewed me was unaware at the time that there is a policy in place that is, I suppose, an offshoot of the freeze on merit raises that is intended to prevent one agency from “stealing” an employee from another agency by offering more money. After some finagling between the agency and the governor’s office, the second agency was able to offer me $44,000. I was told that technically I should have been paid just the $36,000, but that the governor’s office said they’d be embarrassed to pay me that little. I was pretty pissed about the stupid policy, but the job was what I had really wanted to do — it was what I had gone to law school to do.

    But here’s the unfair situation that results from these policies, besides the fact that a person with my education and experience should be making more. There were other attorneys with a similar amount of experience as I had (i.e. just a year or two) who were hired around the same time as I was who came from law firms. Since they had been in the private sector rather than at another state agency, they are making in the low 50s — the salary I was told I would make. So I have coworkers who are making almost $10,000 more than I am simply because they worked at firms first. Additionally, these people do not have the specific education & experience that I do that is directly related to what we do at our agency.

    Manchin wants to encourage kids to stay in West Virginia after graduating from college by changing the Promise scholarship program so that the grants revert to loans of they leave the state. Well, he ought to think about encouraging people who are already in the workforce to stay in West Virginia. I will most likely stay in my current job for a while longer just to get the experience I’m getting, but then I’ll likely end up leaving the state to go work for an equivalent agency in another state that will pay me more. I am seriously struggling to pay my bills at my current salary.

    I hope this isn’t coming across as whiny or as sour grapes or something, because the only reason I’m going into such detail about my own circumstances is because I know there must be lots of other people out there in state government who have similar stories. I was essentially punished because I chose to work in state government before coming to my current job, instead of working for a firm. Shouldn’t Manchin be encouraging hard working, educated people to work for the state? If I were only thinking about my financial situation, I would go work for a firm, but the thought of working for a firm makes me shudder. (I know those firm folks think the only reason an attorney would work for the state is because they can’t get a “real” job, but I just would not be able to stand the whole firm culture.)

    Sorry for this enormous comment. Clearly this is an issue that gets to me.

  2. WVState Says:

    Thanks for the comment. Trust me, I know whereof you speak. Just this past year, Office of Technology employees had job opportunities at state agencies outside of their own cabinet departments, and were promised a salary increase to take the job, only to be told after they’d moved that the raises had been quashed by the Governor’s Office. In the meantime, IT positions that are vacated at OOT are left unfilled, and often contractors brought in.

    Part of it is Manchin’s desire to either centralize or privatize state agencies. He privatized Worker’s Comp, and he has centralized both IT services (OOT) and public relations (Commerce), and both of those agencies bill the state agencies who require their services. Those two agencies have no budgets, they earn all their money (and pay salaries) from billing other state agencies. Does that make any sense?

  3. Underpaid Attorney Says:

    Yeah, that’s interesting. And of course, I forgot to mention in my comment that the reason the teachers get their raises (and the reason the 3% raise last year wasn’t capped for them like it was for the rest of the state employees) is because they have a union.

  4. WVState Says:

    That’s because technically they are county employees, not state employees. That means they can hold a statewide public office (abandoning their students for two months), which public employees can’t do, and they can go on strike and get away with it.

    Even though most of their salaries come from state funds.

  5. More on spare a teacher a dime « The State of the State of WV Says:

    […] A couple of nice letters in the Sunday Gazette-Mail remark on Debra Wolf’s commentary that I blogged on previously. Both opine that Ms. Wolf should have known what her starting salary was going to be in Hampshire […]

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