PA educators comment on minimum teacher salary proposal

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PA educators comment on minimum teacher salary proposal

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Chris Lilienthal (717) 255-7134
David Broderic (717) 255-7169

HARRISBURG, PA (April 2, 2019) – Experienced educators who struggle to pay their bills on low salaries met with their state lawmakers recently to advocate for a raise in Pennsylvania’s minimum educator salary.

The current minimum salary of $18,500 per year was set by law more than 30 years ago in 1988. Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers from both parties have put forth proposals to raise the minimum salary to $45,000 per year, beginning in the 2019-20 school year.

About 3,200 Pennsylvania educators would get a raise in 216 school districts, intermediate units, and career and technical centers. Three out of four of them are women.

Under the proposal, the state would provide $13.8 million in additional basic education funding to fully cover salary increases as well as associated pension, Social Security, and Medicare costs.

Below are quotes from educators and PSEA members who would be paid more fairly if the minimum teacher salary were increased. Reporters and editors are welcome to use these quotes in news stories, editorials, and commentaries on this initiative.

Dottie Schaffer, elementary academic and behavioral intervention specialist, Steelton-Highspire School District

“I think that teaching is one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs that anybody can do,” said Dottie Schaffer, an elementary academic and behavioral intervention specialist with the Steelton-Highspire School District. “Being a teacher doesn’t pay a lot of money, and no one goes into the career to make a lot of money. We do it because we want to be educators.

“I love being in the classroom with my students, but when the school day is done my work isn’t. I work as a server at a nearby restaurant to make ends meet. By the end of the week, I’m exhausted.

“Most teachers I know have to work at least another job, sometimes more than that.

“I’ve been teaching for the past three years. I don’t earn a lot, and I’m still paying off my college loans. After rent and utilities, I have very little left at the end of the month.

“I’m so grateful that Gov. Tom Wolf and legislators want to raise the minimum teacher salary to $45,000 per year. This proposal will help teachers like me make ends meet.”

Bridgette May, certified school nurse, Erie City School District

“I love being a nurse, and I’m proud of the work that I do at the Erie School District,” said Bridgette May, a certified school nurse with the Erie City School District for the past five years. “Becoming a nurse was like a dream come true for my family and me; however, the salary made it more like a nightmare when it came to making ends meet or providing for my family. The salary nowhere covers the work that teachers or school nurses do all year round.

“When I took the job, I had to complete additional coursework to become a certified school nurse. That required me to take on more student loans, ask sacrifices from my kids, and seek help from my family. Over the years, I have had to pick up extra hours working as a nurse at a local hospital. Even then, it’s been difficult to pay my bills and raise my family.

“I shouldn’t have to take work home, work after-school programs, and work per diem in the hospital just to make ends meet and keep my family afloat. A raise in the minimum educator salary means more stability for me and my family, and it’s good for student achievement, student well-being, and the continuity of their care.”

Stacie Baur, fifth-grade math teacher, Clairton City School District

“I work in a low-income school district where most of my students receive free and reduced lunch,” said Stacie Baur, a fifth-grade math teacher with the Clairton City School District who has 10 years of classroom experience. “I am a teacher, a counselor, and a therapist daily, even though my degree is only in teaching.

“I am certified as an elementary education teacher, have my master’s in special ed, and have an ESL certificate. I currently have $130,000 worth of student loan debt and pay about $700 a month in student loans. That is almost one of my full paychecks each month.

“I am currently working as an ESL teacher online and teach students English who live in China. I enjoy this job, but the hours are pretty crazy. Every Monday through Friday, I wake up around 4 a.m., teach three or four classes, get dressed and then go to my job teaching at Clairton Elementary. On the weekends, I work from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. teaching my ESL students online.

“Although my husband and I have thought about buying a house and having children someday, the reality is that we don’t know if we can afford it or have the time to take care of a family or a house. My school responsibilities and second job leave little time for me to take care of daily chores or spend time with family and loved ones.

“I love my job, and I love my students. I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done. I enjoy going to work and enriching the lives of my students. I know my students need teachers like me in order to be successful.

“There are hundreds of other teachers like me, serving in struggling school districts and barely scraping by. We struggle with tuition costs, student loans, and day-to-day expenses. I’m so happy that Rep. Toohil, Sen. Schwank, Gov. Wolf, and other policymakers have heard our stories and want to do something about it.”

Fritz Herling, physical education and health teacher, Panther Valley School District

“Teachers work very hard,” said Fritz Herling, a physical education and health teacher in the Panther Valley School District with nine years of experience. “I work with a dedicated group of teachers at my school, and those teachers put a lot of work in that is never seen by the public eye. Unfortunately, some of those teachers have left for other local districts, where the funding is much greater.

"We lose so much experience in our classrooms, and that doesn’t just hurt the professionals at the school. It hurts our students when, every couple years, there’s turnover.

“I know the teachers standing with me are very appreciative of the people who are fighting for our right to make a sustainable living wage. $45,000 will go a long way for a lot of us teachers.”

An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 181,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.