From Ryan Burbey:
In recent years, many falsehoods about teaching in Harford County have been circulating. Many of these myths are derogatory and defamatory to those of us who have diligently dedicated our lives to education. I hope this article will dispel and correct some of these inaccuracies.
Myth #1: Teachers work 7.5 hours per day and have summers off.
While, I am sure there is a slim minority of teachers who can do this, most Harford County teachers work vastly more than this. I personally work through my 25 minutes lunch everyday. That takes me to about eight hours a day. I also spend at least 1.5-2 hours each day outside of school grading or preparing for the day by reading the literature I must teach or planning. Similarly, I don’t know anyone being paid on steps 1-6, who can afford to have summers off. At step six, really careful, conservative teachers, who save all their extra money and don’t have student loans, might be able to stay home.
We are contracted to work 7.5 hrs each day, 190 days each year. However, virtually every teacher in this county comes in days before they are required to start the year and stays days beyond the end; to clean-up, plan, get organized, as well as, decorate their room. Every teacher is required to get a Masters degree during their “off time”. About 2/3’s of this tuition is paid by the school system but the remaining third is paid from teachers declining salaries. However, our mileage to and from our classes is not paid, even though this is a direct requirement of our employment; nor is the cost of our books or materials. Likewise, we are not paid to attend in the summer or to work after hours.
Myth #2: Teachers in Harford County are overpaid.
Quite simply, teachers in Harford County are among “the lowest paid teachers in the state”.
Go ahead and check the salary scale. It is in our negotiated agreement which is published on the HCPS website. http://www.hcps.org/BOE/docs/CollectiveBargaining/HCEA/HCEA_NegotiatedAgreement.pdf
However, you must adjust down three steps. The salary scale, which is currently advertised, is patently false and does not represent current wages in Harford County. Currently, teachers’ wages in Harford County are not comparable to our immediate neighbors in Cecil and Baltimore counties. In both those counties, teachers enjoy higher wages.
Myth #3: Teachers have “Cadillac” benefits, which are paid for by taxpayers.
It is true that teachers have fairly good health insurance. However, this is a benefit, which our local union, HCEA, and our state union, MSEA, have fought relentlessly to preserve. Virtually every year, The Harford County Board of Education proposes or unilaterally attempts to implement cuts to our healthcare. Currently, teachers’ benefits in Harford County are not comparable to our immediate neighbors Cecil and Baltimore counties. In both those counties, teachers enjoy better benefits.
When considering healthcare, it is also important to remember that HCPS is self-insured and self-funded. Don’t know what that means? Neither did I. So, I looked it up.
The nuts and bolts of this are as follows. An insurance company helps the school system design benefits and set rates. The school system contributes their share and collects premiums from its employees. The school system then pays the cost of employee claims from this fund. The school system also purchases a stop loss plan in case the claimed benefits are more than the collected funds. However, to my knowledge, this has never happened in Harford County. In most systems, the employees are refunded via “premium holidays” for overages in collected premiums. This has not happened in Harford County for many years.
Myth #4: You can’t fire teachers when they don’t do their job.
This is probably the biggest lie about education. There is a very clearly defined process for documenting poor performance and dismissing teachers. In most cases, this can be accomplished, by motivated administrators, within 2 years. The process, like most large employers, provides an opportunity for structured assistance and improvement. Very few teachers in Harford County ever enter this process. You can view the current evaluation report for HCPS at the following link:
You will see that only 52 of the over 2,000 teachers were rated unsuccessful. Only 64 more were rated causing concern, which indicates a need for immediate improvement. That amounts to 2.4% of teachers who are unsuccessful and 2.9% who are causing concern and in need of immediate improvement. In total, that means that 5.3% of teachers in Harford County may not currently be successful. If after being given support and opportunities to improve, the employee fails to improve, they are dismissed.
New teachers must demonstrate satisfactory performance for three years before receiving tenure. During this period, they are observed by multiple members of both school-based and central office administration.
In extreme cases of proven neglect, abuse or insubordination, teachers may be dismissed without the opportunity to improve.
Look around your workplace or job-site. Are 5% of your colleagues not performing satisfactorily? Are they immediately terminated? Are they required to complete a structured and highly monitored performance improvement plan?
Myth #5: Teachers’ Unions defend “failing” teachers.
Unions do not defend failing teachers. Unions, HCEA included, defend their contracts. They protect teachers’ rights. They protect the integrity of the educational system and, yes, they defend students’ rights. Unions must defend every teacher’s right to due process before dismissal. Tenure is not designed to protect “failing” teachers. Tenure is designed to protect teachers, like myself, who speak out for the rights of their colleagues and students. Tenure is designed to allow academic freedom and diverse perspectives. Tenure protects fairness and equity.
Myth #6: Teachers want “special treatment” and want to “take money” from other county or school system employees.
This is inflammatory and completely false rhetoric. All HCEA and every other teachers’ union has demanded, is the opportunity to negotiate in accordance with current state and federal laws. HCEA and other unions just want their partners in management to negotiate in good faith with proposals based in honesty and real facts, not massaged statistics and specious budgetary numbers. Similarly, teachers want every employee to enjoy the same benefits as they do. We want all employees either public or private to have access to affordable healthcare. We want all employees to be protected, by a system of due process from employers taking capricious actions. We want all employees to have a safe and healthy workplace. We want all employees to receive fair compensation for their labors, which accounts for their experience and education. Teachers’ unions have fought and will continue to fight for these principals for all workers. Teachers‘ unions fight to ensure both the letter and spirit of the law is followed. Case in point is the refusal by HCEA to accept an illegal and ill-conceived “one time” bonus.
Myth #7: Teachers are “lucky to have a job”.
While I and every other teacher, not just in Harford County, but in the nation is disturbed and saddened by the suffering caused by the recent economic situation, we are not lucky. Luck implies chance.
No teacher has arrived at his or her profession via luck. Every teacher must complete a rigorous undergraduate program to fulfill certification requirements.
Every teacher must also complete a graduate program, which results in a Masters degree within ten years. This is not luck. This is not chance. It is careful and deliberate preparation.
Teachers sacrifice the opportunity for higher wages and greater financial success afforded in the private sector for a stable wage, which increases annually & benefits, which ensure health and economic security. While we are sometimes insulated from the volatility of the private sector, we also are excluded from “windfalls” of booming economies. We dedicate ourselves to work above and beyond expectations and dutifully serve the children of our community. In return, we expect our contract to be honored. We don’t expect to be demonized, defamed or used as pawns in political manipulations. Likewise, we don’t expect our contractually guaranteed wages to be used to fill budgetary shortfalls created by County level leadership with extremely misplaced priorities.
I, personally, made a very carefully thoughtful decision to become a teacher. I was working as a furniture mover, despite having BA in English. My fiancée was pregnant. It was apparent that I could not be home enough to be as involved in my family as I wanted. It was also clear that I could not count on a stable income to provide for my family. I sought out a career, which would provide that time and stability to my family. After choosing teaching, I committed myself to improving my practice and providing the best instruction I could to my students. I completed a Masters degree program. I pursued a PhD. In addition, I have attended multiple conferences at my own expense.
Myth #8: Teachers haven’t “suffered” like other county employees.
This is an outright lie that denigrates the sacrifices, which teachers have endured during this economic downturn. Teachers on the Bachelors degree salary scale have lost over $1,200 per year in contractually agreed upon salary steps. That is about 3% of their salary every year. It totals over $7,000 in three years of the salary freeze. Teachers on the Masters level salary scale have lost over $1,300 per year. That is over 3% of their salary every year. It totals about $8,000 in three years of the salary freeze. Teachers on the Masters+30 salary scale, like myself, have lost over $2,000 per year. That is over 3% of their salary every year. It totals about $12,000 in three years of the salary freeze. The only teachers who did not suffer yearly losses are those who are at the top of the salary scale with 15 or more years of experience, but they have not receive contractually guaranteed longevity increases either.
Every teacher, regardless of their experience or “step” is currently paid 2% less due to changes in the pension contributions. This 2% “teacher tax”, unlike our other pension contributions, does not go to the pension fund. It is going directly into the MD general fund. This means that every teacher is currently suffering between a 2%-5% pay cut. If you question my numbers, go ahead and check the salary scale. It is in our negotiated agreement, which is published on the HCPS website. Remember, we are three steps behind so a fourth year teacher is making the same as a first year teacer. An eleventh year teacher, like myself, is making eighth year pay.
Did required graduate tuition for teachers go down? No, it went up. Did healthcare cost go down? No, it went up at a rate almost double that of the private sector. We have been required to work the same 190 days for less compensation.
Other county employees have also endured unwarranted salary, wage freezes, and wage cuts via furloughs. Teachers weren’t furloughed but when teachers are “furloughed”, we still must go to work. We just don’t get paid. We all, teacher, county worker, HCPS employee, and those in the private sector, have lost way too much money.
This has been a tough time for everyone. I do not intend to minimize the suffering of any businessmen, contractors, workers, county employees or those in the private sector. Other county employees have also endured unwarranted salary and wage freezes, as well as, salary and wage cuts via furloughs. However, folks should understand that we, teachers are suffering too. Likewise, no county employee or teacher should continue to suffer when county revenue has virtually returned to pre-recession levels (617million pre-recession vs. 607 million currently). We also should not be pitted against each other by manipulative politicians, with self-serving agendas, or tricked into taking “one-time” bonuses rather than contractually agreed upon salaries. Similarly, we should not be demonized by a county executive who claims, he “Commits to education.“ and “Understands the connection between education and individual success, and he strives to build a strong educational system for Harford County’s children.”