Too Much / Not Enough

I was laid off in June as the Assistant Band Director at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, OH. The district is reorganizing, and due to “necessary staff reductions” it was determined that I did not have enough seniority to remain employed. Eight years in the district was simply not enough to retain my job.

After dozens of unanswered applications to open music teaching positions everywhere, I was called to interview at a private school. I was told that my eleven years of teaching experience was exactly what they were looking for and I was subsequently offered the job. However, after much soul searching and thought, I decided that roughly minimum wage for a teaching career was not a sacrifice I would be able to make.

This week, I was called to interview at Fairborn High School, my alma mater. A resignation opened up a position for teaching instrumental music to middle and high schoolers, and they preferred a person with percussion specialty. Not only did I meet these requirements, I had the support of three other music teachers within the district (one of whom is my sister in law, one who is a relative of my wife) as well as an administrative clerical person who knows who I am. The interview went very well and I had high hopes. I thought my network would pay off as it seems to do in countless other professions.

However, I was told that the district is starving for finances and may have to cut staff if a tax levy fails in November. They wanted to hire someone lower on the salary scale so I offered to start at step zero. This is where brand new people with no prior experience begin. I’d be lucky to make half of what I made in my former job in that case. I was told that “due to union requirements, the district cannot offer me lower pay.” They must offer me pay based on my experience. I have eleven years in the system, which places me above the bottom third. That pretty much meant that there’s no way I was going to be given an offer.

Here’s the crazy thing. If my calculations are correct, my pay and benefits came to at least $421 per day this past year. I base that on my gross pay and benefits divided by the 185-day calendar. Not factoring benefits still brings my gross pay to about $324 per day. From that amount are the standard deductions, my 10% of the insurance, and those ungodly union dues that I’m forced to pay whether I’m a member or not. But I’ve had a raise every year for over a decade so I consider myself fortunate. These past few years have afforded me the ability to pay off a lot of debt and save an emergency fund that will get us through a few months.

In Fairborn, that union rule is in place, no doubt, to prevent a school board from paying teachers less than a living wage. Private schools like the one I mentioned above do not have collective bargaining agreements, which is why they were able to offer such low pay. Some colleagues would say “I told you so,” about the private school, and hail the merits of their beloved union. But this organization helped shove me out the door of one job and is now holding it closed on the new ones.

Unions and collective bargaining have had their place but I say they are responsible for the destructive economy we are presently enduring. If businesses of all types were simply able to employ people and pay them based on their value to the company, GM would not have needed the bailout. Thousands of workers would not have been laid off. Teachers in my position would still be employed. Same goes for the banks. If they were simply allowed to fail under their own mismanagement, we’d not have as high of a deficit as the current government has run up.

Wake up, folks. Your children are enrolled in schools where the primary focus of teachers is job security. The administration’s agenda is centered on trimming the budget and asking the public for as few tax dollars as possible while protecting their own assets. The private alternatives have dedicated people who are compensated so low, they are unable to earn a living wage, because unions have worked hard to block vouchers that would allow state money to follow students from public to private schools.

Meanwhile, the public has “voter fatigue” and are unwilling to have their property taxes raised again, which is already unconstitutional. (Will save for another time) While some public school teachers nearing retirement are fantastic educators, many are burnt out, unwilling to adapt to new teaching styles, and simply holding on for their promised prize, the full 100% retirement pay. Many of these people have already had to work an extra 3-5 years beyond what they were promised when they started. On the other end, younger college graduates who are eager to teach enter a workforce that hopes they will quit within five years in order to keep expenditures to a minimum. Even worse than my situation are the ones who were required to obtain Masters’ degrees within so many years. Last year, Ohio had the opportunity to end collective bargaining but because of the way it was presented, and the fact that the public sector unions spent over $30 million to kill it, it failed to be ratified. Wisconsin had a similar bill that actually stuck. The result is that in WI, unions are diminishing and more public sector employees are keeping their jobs. Here in OH, the opposite is true. Unions are just as powerful as before, and teachers are being laid off by the dozens statewide. True, those public employees are likely paid less now, but go back a few paragraphs and see if you think my compensation was in need of a trim. Of course, I had no ability to offer my former employer to take a pair of scissors to my salary.

I have a passion for sharing music with people. I love showing young people how to do something with a musical instrument, I love seeing their reaction when they experience something they’ve never seen before and it amazes me to watch them grow from a novice to an expert in a short time. To see them have so much fun at something as crucial to a person’s soul as music is something I will always have a passion for.

But from here on out, I will no longer seek employment from any school. I will reach those students somehow, without having to go through the route of established learning institutions. I suppose there’s an outside chance I could be recalled to Huber Heights, but even then I’ll carefully scrutinize the offer. Meanwhile, I’ll take my desire to learn quickly and perform well into another profession where I may be able to still reach people but with a different line of work. Maybe it’s time to silence the music from this former educator and go do something where diligence is rewarded.

In the end, I’m in this predicament because I did not have enough experience to remain employed in my field; but I have too much experience for schools elsewhere. I’ll take my share of the blame: I didn’t barge my way through a masters degree in order to obtain tenure. I simply cared more for focusing on the actual teaching instead of following the union midset of finding a way to keep my job safe.

So goodbye, Ohio schools, to you and all your bureaucracy and red tape. To the unions, I say good luck and good riddance. Best of luck to you all as the economy continues to collapse from your destructive hands, and the corrupt officials whom you bribe with money you steal from people like me. Enjoy the ride as the students learn more and more from the internet rendering you even more useless in the classroom. I know a lot of good people in these institutions. It saddens me to speak so harshly about these arenas while friends and colleagues are simply doing their own jobs to get through this life. Some of whom are bound by rules that are out of their control either way. We all need to wake up and demand better from our elected leaders. and force them to fix things or be thrown out. I worry that only violence will work against senseless abuse of power by elected officials. Students already know that it surely gets the attention of some adults who otherwise ignore them.

To make a long story short, goodbye. I’m going somewhere else.

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4 thoughts on “Too Much / Not Enough

  1. dude that just sucks. unions are ridiculous and I never have understood them. my prayers are with you man. God will provide.

  2. rosettazola@yahoo.com says:

    For what it’s worth, I would have loved for you to teach my son….

    It may be when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.
    ……Wendell Berry

    • closer918 says:

      Thanks. I’m sure I’d have loved it. From the sound of it, the new person will be a good teacher. Who can blame them? Someone else is getting their shot. I’ve had some real blessings in the past decade. I really want to share in their joy, just to tell them congratulations and to do their absolute best for those students.

  3. josh says:

    This is one of the best essays i have ever read!

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