A Noble Pursuit

A Noble Pursuit

Teachers work extra hours, but in the end it’s hard to make ends
Gilroy – When the school bell rings Rick Charvet’s day is far from over.

At 3pm, the Mt. Madonna High School teacher closes up his classroom, heads home for a quick bite and then makes the short trek to Morgan Hill to begin his second job at Extreme Learning Center. By the time the clock strikes 10pm, Charvet is just turning the key to his front door.

And his Friday and Saturday evenings are spent supervising children at a recreational program.

“Sunday is my day of rest and usually I head back to my classroom to prepare for the following week,” Charvet wrote in an e-mail response from Boston where he’s attending an educational seminar.

Like many teachers – while the 15-year veteran sits on the higher end of Gilroy’s salary schedule – Charvet still finds it difficult to make ends meet. The father of two and his wife rent their Gilroy home and “do not foresee owning a home in Gilroy because my salary and debt-to-income ratio is far too low to qualify.”

But the issue many local teachers have with their salaries has less to do with the numbers than with comparisons. With the minimum pat at $40,017 and the top salary at $74,889, some may not consider those paychecks too shabby.

And for a fresh-out-of-college single kid with no financial commitments, even the bottom rung looks good, Charvet wrote. But add in a family, car payment and the pricey mortgages of Santa Clara County, and it’s doubtful that salary will remain attractive.

Teacher salary schedules are based on an assortment of factors, including experience, education and number of credits earned. Still, educators may boost their base salaries if desired by earning extra stipends and/or teaching summer school.

That’s how many teachers in the Gilroy Unified School District managed to pump up their paychecks. Last school year 21 teachers earned more than $80,000, according to 2005 tax returns. Five teachers even grossed more than $90,000.

But in many neighboring districts, teacher salaries exceed Gilroy’s at both the top and bottom of the salary schedule. According to the most recent statistics, the lowest salary in the San Jose Unified School District is $40,688, while the highest hits $81,709.

Teachers up in San Jose’s Oak Grove School District earn a beginning wage of $40,049 and top out at $76,901. Up the freeway, in the Morgan Hill Unified School District at $38,880, first-year teachers earn less but they top out at $75,741.

In San Jose’s East Side Union High School District, a territory local teachers often refer to when grumbling about Gilroy’s wages, beginning teachers earn $46,832 and the most experienced top out at $94,895. That means when all those extras are figured in, educators in surrounding districts bring home an even fatter paycheck than those in Garlic Capitol classrooms.

Teacher Retention

Gilroy teachers claim that disparity in income is what’s driving the new educator exodus.

Carol Marques has experienced the turn-over firsthand, watching with her own eyes as new teachers head for higher paying jobs after two-year stints here.

And after 30 years in the district, Marques has seen her fair share.

“We keep spinning our wheels because we’re always starting over training new people,” said the South Valley Middle School teacher. “We’re training teachers to be better teachers for other school districts and that is exactly what is happening. That has been our gripe for the past 20 years.”

Marques said there was a time when she considered doing the same, leaving GUSD for a hefty raise. But now that she finds herself at the extreme high-end of the salary schedule – in Gilroy teachers top out after 25 years experience – that would translate to a cut since most districts only reward a fraction of tenure.

So Marques has stuck around, but she understands why new teachers are fleeing for costlier grounds.

That’s exactly where Rob Lawrence headed.

Straight out of California State University, Chico, Lawrence accepted a teaching position at Gilroy High School. To a single, recent college graduate his $39,000 salary seemed reasonable. But after a short spell as a GHS math teacher, he quickly learned otherwise.

“I didn’t know Gilroy was so low-paying in comparison until I started working there,” said Lawrence, who taught at GHS for two years. “I can say if they had paid me more I would have stayed.”

Gilroy Teacher’s Association President Michelle Nelson asked the 25-year-old how much it’d take to keep him around. His answer? $5,000.

But the request wasn’t granted since the district must adhere to the salary schedule unless negotiated and Lawrence looked around for a new job. He now teaches at Half Moon Bay High School where he says life is much easier.

At the coastal school the language barrier isn’t an issue. Discipline isn’t a problem. And students are higher achievers.

While the pay isn’t extremely higher – about $2,000 more than GUSD – the benefits are better and the whole environment is much less stressful.

“The kids are great out there (in Gilroy), but they’re hard to teach,” Lawrence said. “They’re just not where they should be at grade level … It’s not an easy place to teach and there’s no incentive to go the extra mile there.”

The young educator would like to see the district bump up it’s pay by about $5,000 annually, a salary Lawrence thinks would draw in and retain more teachers.

For Marques there’s no magic number. Instead, the longtime educator wants the district’s salaries to be more comparable to the county’s other 31 districts.

The school board recently announced it had listed compensation as a top priority. In May the board voted to dedicate 75 percent of unallocated funds and 85 percent of additional available funds to overall employee compensation.

District officials have spent the past couple years bringing local salaries more up to par with neighboring districts, but not only those in Santa Clara County.

“There’s been an effort for at least five years,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Linda Piceno. “Four of those five years we’re some really lean budget years from the state.”

The goal, said Piceno, is “to attract high quality staff and to retain them once we do attract them.”

Why Teach?

Marques has heard the whines from many, even her husband, that teachers have it easy with summer vacation and every holiday off. In Gilroy, teachers work 186 a year.

But, she pointed out, an hour in the classroom isn’t comparable to an hour in an office.

“Teaching is very exhausting because you’re on the go, you’re the show,” she said.

She’s seen lawyers and engineers, who assumed because they knew the material they could make it in a middle school classroom, quit before the school year ended. Also, don’t assume a teacher’s day ends in the late afternoon.

They’ll tell you, for most it’s an all-consuming profession that doesn’t end at 3pm.

And while, fair wages may be on the tips of their tongues, teachers are the first to admit they didn’t chose the career for the hefty paycheck.

Still, reality is inevitable. This is California, after-all.

“I think good teachers have to have a calling,” Charvet wrote. “They need to have a passion for what they are doing. That’s why I am a teacher. I knew going in that teaching wouldn’t pay me very much, unfortunately, but I wanted to pursue a living leaving the world in a better place. If I didn’t need the money to survive I would teach for free. But we all know that’s not going to happen.”

Heather Bremner covers education for the Dispatch. Reach her at [email protected] or 847-7097.