Taking One for the Team: OC Teachers Face Pay Cuts

It’s a well-known fact that teachers are grossly underpaid for the crucial work they perform: teaching and imparting information to us so as to better prepare students for the world after school and college. So it comes as no surprise that the rotten economy’s adverse effects on teachers has created a large amount of controversy in school districts, households and classrooms across America. Orange County and its surrounding areas are no exception.

The Orange Unified School District is considering a motion that will hack 3.75 percent off all employees’ paychecks to assist in evaporating a $30.1 million budget deficit. City leaders in Mission Viejo are asking Saddleback Valley employees to accept a 4 percent pay cut to save a well-loved elementary school from closing down. The school board of Capistrano Unified is also mired in arguments with employee unions about a 10 percent pay cut.

Teacher salary cuts are an option that’s being explored all across the nation as a strategy to alleviate burdensome deficits while saving programs and classes. Advocates of the tactic argue that salary cuts are vital in order to preserve smaller class sizes as well as a mix of informational programs and extracurricular activities. The integrity and quality of the classic school experience, they say, is at stake.

Already, over 3,000 educators and teachers in Orange County have been handed pink slips and told they could be looking at unemployment as early as June, according to The Orange County Register. As a way to deal with a deficit of $287 million, many programs such as music, sports and counseling are facing cuts. Thousands of jobs, various school programs and relatively small class sizes could be negatively affected.

However, union leaders have traditionally fought wage cuts and now humorlessly argue that teachers are already underpaid and overworked. Drops in their salaries, they argue indignantly, will ultimately make it harder to recruit the brightest and best teachers.

But should teachers be excluded from the economy’s wallet-withering touch just because they don’t make a spectacular salary? Teachers in California have a reputation for being the best paid in the nation (teachers, don’t laugh too hard). As a result, critics say that these Orange County teachers are in a suitable position to take a financial gut punch since thousands of other employees are taking the same beating across the state.

According to a 2007-08 salary data analysis published in The Orange County Register, teachers in Orange County have, on average, a higher salary than teachers living in any U.S. state, including California. The average base pay of your normal OC teacher hovers around $74,528 a year. California teachers average $64,424 a year, which is nothing to sneeze at since it’s higher than the average of any other state in the United States.

So even the nation’s best teachers don’t make six figures a year, but this does not mean they are entitled to special exclusion from our hard-hitting economy. If we take into account the $74,528 average salary of an OC teacher and if the 3.75 percent pay cut passes, then our hapless teacher will be out $2,794. The 4 percent cut would lop off around $2,981 from the Saddleback Valley teacher’s paycheck. Any unfortunate teacher caught in Mission Viejo will be handling a paycheck about $7,452 lighter. Ouch.

The question that must be asked is whether these teachers can handle the pay cut? If the pay cut does not happen, then OC and Saddleback schools will see a number of classes and programs disappear into thin air, as well as classrooms that will suddenly swell with an influx of students orphaned by the program cuts. Mission Viejo will have the added stress of losing an entire elementary school.

If one weighs the options on a scale, it would seem that the pay cut is not as bad as the greater losses that would occur if the pay cut were not enacted. In a time of crisis, teachers must bond together in order to help one another out, as we all should. The teachers in Mission Viejo might retain their annual $7,452, but meanwhile, a whole slew of newly-fired teachers and school officials will be worrying about how to make ends meet. And there is always the prospect that this pay cut will only be temporary, and these teachers, whom I’m sure deserve every penny and more of the $7,452 they face losing, may be repaid given time.

Student sentiment on campus seems to flow in the same vein.

“Looking at the potential job loss and over-crowded schools, teachers should come together for the sake of their fellow educators so that they don’t lose their jobs,” said Aaron Friedland, a second-year political science major.

Erin Perez, a second-year film and media studies major, expanded on Friedland’s viewpoint.

“It’s a terrible, no-win situation for everyone. The already-underpaid teachers will lose income that is probably vital to sustaining their current economic situation. But if [the pay cut isn’t enacted], this will cause other [school officials] to lose their jobs, and put them into a greater economic hardship than the teachers [facing a pay cut]. In weighing the negatives, the teachers, I think, should endure the pay cut and ride out the nation’s financial woes. I’d rather have struggling teachers than workless, possibly homeless ones,” Perez said.

While it’s a shame that our teachers, people who deserve to be paid for their labor a lot more than they are now, must lose out on even more money; it’s for the greater good of the entire teaching community that they do so. This pay cut will help to alleviate already over-full classes and keep many programs and classes from swinging on the gallows. Most importantly, though, it will save the jobs of many different teachers and school officials and potentially keep some of them off the streets.

This is not a time for selfishness and for clinging to pennies. We need to help our neighbors when their needs outweigh ours. That’s the only way we can make it through this maelstrom of an economy.

AE Anteater is a third-year English major. He can be reached at emailremoved@uci.edu.