I'm not sure how Walker thinks reducing the salaries of thousands of workers like me is going to save the economy.
I don't normally like to talk about my private life, but today I'm going to, because I want people to understand why Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal is truly an attack on working-class Americans.
I am a second-year teacher. I work in a rural school district in Wisconsin. Many of my students come from poor families. Some of them live in the trailer park near our school or down the street in the subsidized apartments. A significant percentage get free or reduced lunch. This winter, we provided snow pants and coats to children whose families couldn't afford them.
The people who live here are hard workers and proud. But they can't afford the cost of educating their children. My school district has relied extensively on state aid to fund the schools. Unfortunately, the state has dramatically reduced the amount of funding it gives to schools like mine. As a result, our district has faced huge deficits. Last year, the district laid off teachers, which forced it to increase class sizes and reduce special ed services. This year, we are looking at more staff reductions and a salary freeze.
And now we come to Walker. His proposal to have public workers pay more than 5% of their salary into the state pension and double their share of health care costs will not save my district any money. Our schools superintendent rather bluntly told us that the state was going to keep the money to cover its own deficit, not provide more state aid to schools. So the working families who send their children to us will still see increased class sizes and fewer educational opportunities, despite these "savings."
Our school could also begin to lose its highly trained, professional teachers, because they will no longer be able to afford to stay in education with the salary and benefits cut Walker is rushing through the state Legislature.
My district has never required us to pay anything into the pension or for health care. We took those benefits in exchange for a lower salary. People accuse state workers of having cushy jobs, with exorbitant benefits, job security and fantastic salaries. So while admitting this makes me uncomfortable, I'm going to do it so you can see just how ridiculous that accusation is: My salary as a second-year teacher, with a Bachelor's degree and one class short of a Master's degree, is....$36,000.
Most of my friends in the private sector had starting salaries of much more than that. I know people who have less education than I do, who made $50,000-$60,000 in their first year.
It will take me about 15 years on the salary scale before I make that kind of money.
Walker's proposal would cost me about $400 a month. Frankly, I won't be able to survive. Because not only do I have the usual debt -- mortgage, car payments -- I owe tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Getting a Master's degree is actually kind of pricey, but I assume you want a highly educated teacher in the classroom, right?
I'm not sure how Walker thinks reducing the salaries of thousands of workers like me is going to save the economy. With that kind of wage reduction, I won't be able to buy new clothes, go to movies, go out to eat, go to happy hour, buy Christmas presents, buy birthday presents, get haircuts or buy pet food. I won't be able to replace my 20-year-old furnace or my 20-year-old kitchen cabinets. I already gave up cable and I drive a used car with more than 140,000 miles on it. So it's clear I won't be buying any iPods or iPhones or anything else shiny any time soon.
Hell, with that kind of cut, I won't be buying food or gas, either.
I suppose I could get a second job to supplement my reduced income. But let me clear up a few misconceptions about teachers: I'm not a babysitter. I don't color all day. I don't get to leave at 2:00 every afternoon. I don't sit on the beach all summer.
I get to school by 7:45 a.m. and I work until 4:30 or 5:00. At least one night a week, I stay later than 5. I'm supposed to get a half hour of "duty free" lunch every day, but I usually spend that time helping students or prepping for a lesson. There are some days when I don't eat lunch at all.
I won't get into how hard it is to find five minutes to go to the bathroom when you have a classroom of 20 kids who demand your constant attention.
By the time I make it home, I am so exhausted, I usually drop on the couch and fall asleep by 9 p.m. I can't even stay awake to watch the news to see what Walker is going to do to us next. Getting a second job? It would probably kill me.
And I already spend my summer working. In my district, many families send their children to summer school. It's free daycare. I don't mind. I'd rather my students spent their summer reading books and playing math games, than sitting zoned out in front of the TV or computer for two months.
So now I have to make a choice. Do I stay in education and try to make it on $5,000 a year less? Or do I leave and try to find one of those cushy private sector jobs, where you have to pay for health care, but at least you get a decent salary?
Um, are there even any private sector jobs left?
I don't want to leave my students. Because the truth is, teaching kids is a fantastic job. This past week, I taught a four-year-old how to spell his name. I taught another child how to sound out words, so he could start reading a Dr. Seuss book on his own. And I took my class to the planetarium, where they got to gaze in awe at the planets, moon and stars. The universe, they decided, was a pretty special place. Watching them, for a little while I felt it was.
I hope you will join me in a candlelight vigil on Tuesday and Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol. Like thousands of other teachers, I am a dedicated and hard-working public employee, so I won't make it there until after the school day ends. I don't want to miss a single day away from my students.
Because who knows? One of them might grow up to be governor one day. No doubt they'd do a better job of it.
Vikki Kratz, a former Isthmus staff writer, is a pre-kindergarten teacher.