( 5 Votes )

The fervor over education funding in Fluvanna County will not die.

It began over a month ago when the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors voted on a lower than expected tax rate, cutting the school board operating budget by $1.4 million.  But just when protests and angry Facebook posts were starting to dwindle, the debate was reignited two weeks ago when a group called the Fluvanna Taxpayers Watchdog Association published a two-page ad in the Fluvanna Review claiming that public school teachers are overpaid by 50 percent.

The ad was a reprinted article by Andrews Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan criticized the original article in U.S News and World Report saying it, “asks [the] wrong questions, ignores facts, [and] insults teachers.”  Many Fluvanna teachers agree with Duncan, and are challenging the claims of the ad.

“I certainly felt that it was incredibly inaccurate, especially based on my personal situation,” said Fluvanna third grade teacher Angela Davis.

Fluvanna County High School math teacher Beth Johnson questioned the study’s sources and methodologies.

“Being a math teacher and knowing so much about statistics and how easily they can be used to sway a point, I would love to know the kind of ways the data was collected and what the data really said,” said Johnson.

In response to questions from the Fluvanna Review about the accuracy of his findings, Biggs said, “I can imagine the piece would get some people excited. The main point isn’t that we want across the board cuts – we’d much prefer that salaries be set on a case by case basis, rather than using a one size fits all formula based on experience and whether you have a B.A. or a Master’s. But we did want to debunk the idea that simply raising pay will fix our problems with teacher quality.

“Teachers already receive higher wages than they’d receive in other jobs, but that hasn’t given us better-quality teachers,” said Biggs. “So in part this is a technical explanation for why teachers may look really underpaid relative to other college graduates, and in part it’s tough talk to say that the easy fixes (particularly ones that teacher unions obviously prefer!) aren’t going to do the job. We’re continuing to work on this issue using new data and feel our numbers are solid.”

While Fluvanna teachers are paid competitively for the area (only Charlottesville and Albemarle pay teachers more), Virginia Department of Education data shows that average teacher’s salary in Fluvanna County has gone down 6.2 percent since 2010, to a current average salary of around $49,800.

Davis, who has taught in Fluvanna for over 11 years, testified at the May 16 Board of Supervisors meeting that after taxes and insurance payments, her take home pay last year was only $26,000.

“The proposed insurance [changes] for next year has me paying $1,200 per month, which we won’t be able to do,” said Davis.  “I’m looking at the very real possibility of my family having to go without major medical insurance next year, which terrifies me with two small children.”

Although the median household income in the United States is $44,389 – slightly less than a Fluvanna teacher’s salary – the difference in education between the average teacher and the average worker are noteworthy.  The Chronicle of Higher Education states that only 28 percent of Americans have college degrees.  Whereas 52 percent of teachers in the United States have Master’s degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Across any discipline, earnings go up with education.  U.S. Census data shows that on average someone with a Master’s degree will earn $1.3 million more over the course of their lifetime than someone with only a high school degree.  But for teachers, just the opposite is true.  The Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that teachers in the U.S. earn less than 60 percent of the average pay for full-time college-educated workers.

Yet, any teacher that you meet will tell you that they didn’t become a teacher to get rich.

“I knew going in that I was not going to be making a lot of money,” said Johnson.  “We often think of salaries in terms of someone’s value, I guess I wish that our country valued education more than it does.”

Even with modest salaries, Fluvanna teachers didn’t expect to be villainized in the way anonymous posters on the web have begun to use words like “leech” and “parasite” to describe their profession.

“When I was growing up teachers were looked at a lot differently,” said Davis.  “It was a noble profession, now I feel like it’s anything but.  I feel like we walk around with targets on our backs.”