To Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski,
From 2020 to 2022, educators faced the unprecedented circumstances of a pandemic, stagnated wages, and the hardships of virtual learning. Rising to meet these challenges put teachers on a strong footing in our ongoing fight for pay that is commensurate with our work. We have done what was asked of us and more, we have accomplished what seemed impossible and continue to work hard to make up for the learning that was lost during the pandemic—and, surely, that is worth the extra money.
However, the negotiations between the teachers, Baltimore County, and the Board of Education have been plagued by bad faith, botched rollouts of measures secured in previous bargaining sessions, and confusion to the point that many of our staff simply do not know what they are supposed to make, let alone how valuable they are. And now, as we approach another budget hearing, the current proposed 2023-2024 budget has no raises for teachers. We write this letter with immense frustration in our hearts—frustration with those who drafted this proposed budget, and frustration with our union, TABCO, and the lack of teeth they bare. When faced with the rejection of our demands for cost-of-living raises, TABCO has suggested that we wear red to force change. No change has ever come from wardrobes alone, and very little action would result from an email campaign, especially given the backdrop of lingering inflation, a housing crisis, and the inability of many working people to provide for their families.
Many readers are probably unaware that the Baltimore County budget did not include cost-of-living raises for teachers; this is partially due to the ineffective awareness-raising campaigns pushed by TABCO. In fact, many people might be unaware of the economic calculations that are made when it comes to teaching in Baltimore County. Baltimore County is sandwiched between Anne Arundel, Howard, and Harford counties, with an average pay of $66,000, $65,000, and $73,000, respectively, for teachers with state licenses. Teachers in our county, however, are only earning $58,000 on average.
While this might seem adequate to County Executive Johnny O., we continue to atrophy in unsupported schools, and we urge Johnny O. to consider key financial health indicators of the profession. For example, according to this data, owning a house in the Baltimore region takes a median annual salary of $73,000, which roughly amounts to the wages a teacher with a master’s degree makes after working in the county for 15 years. Maybe Johnny O. thinks that teachers should be stuck in the perpetual cycle of renting, but with rents averaging between $1,500-1,800, even that is increasingly unaffordable for teachers. Many teachers around the country spend 50% of their income on rent. This leaves teachers in our county with a choice: leave and teach in a place they can afford to live, or stay and fight every year to scrape by and attempt to stave off the 6% inflation.
Not only are we less financially secure, but we are also expected to overcome higher barriers to entry than other professions. The State of Maryland, for instance, requires us to be masters-level professionals and keep up to date with the latest teaching methodologies, yet securing and maintaining these credentials costs thousands of dollars. The average in-state tuition for colleges in the United States is $25,000 per year, meaning teachers need to take on an education that costs $150,000 at the low end. This puts us in a position to have sizable debt from attaining our master’s degree, but much lower take-home pay than other master’s-level professionals. Not to mention we are perpetually required to make up budgetary shortcomings from our own pockets.
There are many programs in place to assist teachers with their debt, but these programs are ineffective. While it is true teachers qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness and other debt cancellation aid programs, these programs rarely help anyone. Since 2020, only 2.16% of applicants have successfully gotten their loan debt forgiven after 10 years of public service. The structure of this program is also problematic because it effectively chains teachers to their jobs for 10 years with the threat of crushing debt held over us, further contributing to a growing mental health crisis in the profession.
Saddled with debt and with little hope for stable housing, teachers are almost guaranteed economic hardship, all while being expected to routinely make great personal sacrifices in order to raise up the next generation of leaders. This is how the profession is advertised to those students who are graduating high school and exploring potential careers, and it should be no surprise that the effect has been, to say the least, bleak. Enrollment in teacher preparatory programs has declined 35% nationally, with some states seeing as much as a 60% drop. Given the continuously grim outlook of public education, 5,500 teachers in Maryland chose to leave the profession just last year alone, and many more are promising to leave year after year, leaving the rest of us to deal with overcrowded classes and constantly scrambling to cover assignments in the wake of the teacher shortage. So we ask Johnny O., who will replace us when we are gone?
Peter Baum, ESOL
Kamilah Bennett, ESOL
Jenn Berlinger, Math Resource
Jessica Beyer, English
Tracey Burk, ESOL
Terry Cherry, Social Studies
Maria Eligio, Para-educator
Dwight Greene, CTE
Meg Deighton, English
Meredith Jones-Wade, Social Studies
Tiffany Moore, ESOL
Kelsey Morsberger, English
Shannon O’Brocki-Kreft, English
Michael R. O’Leary, English
Jessica Olson, Word Language
Jonathan Rosenblum, Social Work
Esther Santos, ESOL
Chanemia Singleton, Science
Lakisha Womack, Mathematics