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Teacher salaries draining county tapayers

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2002

Some of my cyberspace pen pals are just as upset about the Allegheny County real estate assessment mess as I am.

I suggested moving to adjoining counties for some tax relief, thereby buying time to attack the core problem, which is runaway school boards that tax and spend without voters' approval.

Unfortunately, some readers of my swill don't think I have a clue (which seems to be an occupational hazard for me these days).

S.C. sent the following e-mail message. Space limitations required some editing. Her comments are in quotes. My comments are italicized within the text of her missive.

"I think you need actual facts instead of reactionary blather when it comes to your assumption that a taxpayer should escape to the counties surrounding Allegheny County in order to avoid paying for 'very expensive school districts.' I'll get back to you comparing average school district millage in Allegheny County with the millage of school districts."

I'll save you the time. Ask any Realtor to show you listings for comparable homes in the metro area. Read the tax figures on each listing sheet.

"I can give you one probable answer right now: teachers' salaries — not the starting salary for a brand new teacher that causes the problem, but the salary teachers earn after 20 years on the job. Teachers near the end of their careers make about $75,000 a nine-month year. That is largely the result of decades of attractive union contracts."

Who do you think is responsible for agreeing to those contracts• (Hint: Nine people who face the audience at school board meetings.)

"Employee salaries and benefits make up nearly 75 percent of the typical school district budget. These numbers cannot simply be cut in some budget-slashing whim."

Cutting costs is not a whim-thing. Businesses do it every day. And the well-run ones don't sign sweetheart long-term deals that tie up taxpayers for more than half a decade.

"Health insurance benefit costs are soaring for school districts just as they are for other employers, while those salaries adjust upward (according to contract) 3 percent or 4 percent a year. School districts need 5 percent (increase) in order to meet their payroll and keep up with the cost of living."

Should the standard of living go down for taxpayers so it doesn't have to go down for these government employees•

"And before you complain too much about teacher salaries, keep in mind that teachers were worth more than the very low pay they once received. It was collectively determined that 'you get what you pay for,' and teachers needed to be paid more and appreciated more in order to improve the education of our nation's children."

Surely you're joking. If taxpayers actually got what they paid for, Pennsylvania would have the best scoring students in America.

"This was an opinion held by both Republicans and Democrats. As with most everything in education, it has become clear that money isn't the whole answer… but that is another e-mail."

I can't wait.

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