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A Matter of RESPECT

Joshua Pollock says he’s not looking for a “lavish lifestyle,’’ but he would like to earn enough as a teacher to pay his bills and someday support a family.

But after teaching five years in the California Area School District, Washington County, he makes $39,900, and he has $80,000 in education debt.

To make ends meet, he works multiple part-time jobs, including working for fire companies and ambulance services. When his “second shift’’ ends at night, he then has to do lesson plans before going to bed.

“I’m not asking for a lavish lifestyle. I am not seeking wealth,’’ said Pollock, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and an administrative certificate from the University of Pittsburgh. “I am asking for a fair living in order to be able to eat dinner at home, one night, without worrying about personal finances.’’

Pollock is just one of many educators who are significantly underpaid in comparison to other professionals with comparable education and in comparable professions. And they are why PSEA has launched an initiative called RESPECT – Raise Educators’ Salaries Provide Economic Certainty Today.

The RESPECT initiative, which came from a new business item approved by the PSEA House of Delegates in December, calls for increasing the state’s minimum educator and faculty salary to $45,000 a year. The current minimum of $18,500 has been unchanged since 1988 – when gas prices hovered around $1 a gallon, and the median sales price of a U.S. home was $120,000.

RESPECT also seeks an increase in the hourly minimum wage in recognition of the financial struggles of many education support professionals.

Gov. Tom Wolf agrees and included both measures in his 2019-20 state budget proposal. The increase in the minimum educator salary would not impose a further financial burden on local school districts as the governor’s proposal asks for a 1/4 of 1 percent increase in the state’s basic education funding – less than half a penny on the dollar – to pay for it.

It has bipartisan support – Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and Reps. Tarah Toohil, R-Luzerne, and Kyle Mullins, D-Lackawanna, are the prime sponsors.

“Educators make a tremendous difference in the lives of their students and are key to their success at school,” said PSEA President Rich Askey. “Right now, thousands of hardworking educators are struggling to pay student loans and support their families. They take on second and third jobs just to make ends meet. Paying these educators fairly will help ease their financial struggles, allowing them to focus on their students. And it will empower struggling urban and rural school districts to attract and retain the best and brightest to teach our students.

Gov. Wolf’s minimum wage proposal would increase it from its current level of $7.25 an hour to $12 in 2019 and $15 by 2025.

 “The minimum wage increase is needed by all working families, particularly our support professionals,” Askey said. “They are responsible for making schools function on a daily basis, and are directly involved in maintaining the health and security of our students.’’

Asked her thoughts on increasing the starting teacher salary in Pennsylvania, Kim Hearn asked her interviewer to give her a valuable object.

Handed a ring, Hearn, a second-year teacher in the Bald Eagle Area School District, Centre County, said:  “We entrust our most prized possessions to teachers each day, so why won’t we give teachers the resources and financial security they deserve?’’