In less than a week, the voters in Oak Park will be asked to approve a property tax increase to support the school system. Education is vital to economic success and necessary for a high-functioning democracy. Personally, I support a lifetime of learning. I hold a master’s degree and I am active in adult education and literary groups. But when it comes to funding education, has Oak Park gone overboard?
The average salary of a District 200 teacher is $95,931. The number of teachers making over $100,000 per year is 108. If we capped teacher pay at $80,000 the district would save $5.5 million. OK, maybe a mere $80,000 is not quite enough for 9.5 months work, so let’s cap pay at $100,000. That would save the district $2.8 million.
The numbers for District 97 are not quite so bloated. The average salary is $76,526, with 75 teachers making over $100,000. If we capped pay at $80,000 the savings would be about $4 million. If we capped pay at $100,000 the district would still save $1.8 million.
I agree that education is important to our future and should be well funded. But I have yet to hear a good explanation why giving a raise to a teacher with 25-plus years experience who is already making over $100,000 helps to educate children. I know, I know, we need to attract the best, the brightest to this field. But does it not make more sense to pay beginning teachers more, have smaller class sizes, and pay for real world experience rather than give raises based on the criteria of how many years someone has kept the exact same job? Under the current system, if a career researcher from Argonne National Laboratory with a Ph.D. from MIT wanted to become a teacher, he or she would start at the bottom of the scale (adjusted slightly up for education). How can you attract talent if pay is determined by a matrix, and the only criterion for a raise is that you did not die on the job the year before?
Public service was a career that traditionally paid less than corporate jobs, but offered job stability and a good pension. I am hard-pressed to think of many careers in the private sector that offer an average salary of almost $100,000 for less than 10 months work and, once tenure is achieved, practically no chance of ever losing the job.
Oak Park does have an excellent school system. But if property taxes continue to increase, the only people who will be able to afford to live here are medical doctors, tax attorneys and Oak Park public school teachers.