Teacher Pay in Montgomery County is Appallingly Low


One of the hats I wear is assisting dual-diagnosed clients to survive on $787 a month in social security benefits. Finding a human being housing, clothing and food on $787 a month is a challenge and requires creativity, ingenuity, a thorough knowledge of the social benefits system and a lot of fighting.

Sometimes it’s a fair fight. Sometimes you have to fight dirty. But when a human being’s dignity and survival is on the line, it’s worth putting on armor and wading into battle.

It’s a sad commentary that my dual-diagnosed clients, at $787 a month in income, are better off in many ways than teachers in Montgomery County.

Before we begin, yes I rounded and dropped change, yes there is a fudge here or there. But you’ll see, at the end, that being 100% precise is not necessary for the point. And before anyone questions my ability to dig in and be precise, I just read through 640 pages of tax records from 1862 looking for my great-great-great-great grandfathers address – I can deal with some pretty boring content for hours at a time.

But teachers make so much money (I hear you yelling at your monitor)

Well, they make money, but let’s look at where it goes. Let’s start with a nice round salary  for easy calculation:

$60,000

Now, let’s break it down to Bi-Weekly, or every two weeks, since that’s how most people are paid:

$2308

Teachers get several pre-tax deductions, but we’ll focus on 2 – MCEA Health Insurance (including insurance, prescription, dental and vision) and a 7% retirement contribution.

$215

Now comes the deductions we all get:
Taxes                                                    388
Dues                                                      29 (MCEA, MSEA, NEA)
FICA                                                     172

$589

So after all deductions, pre and post, a teachers take-home check every two weeks is:               

= $1,503

For the rest of this exploration, we need to convert it into a monthly amount. To do that we multiply $1,503 x 26 weeks and then divide by 12 months

$3,256      

Now, anyone who pays bills and does monthly budgeting is probably hyperventilating right about now. The rest of you will see why in a moment.

Let’s start with home costs.

But new teachers can live at home with their parents rent free! (I hear you yelling at your monitor again.)

That’s not realistic for the following reasons:
1) We are not drawing from a pool of teachers that already reside in Montgomery County,
2) We want the best and brightest, so even if we were drawing from inside the county, there would still be a chance we need to go outside the county to get teachers
3) What other profession, not job, but profession do we tell professionals “If you want to work here, you need to live with your parents.” Lawyers? Doctors? Research scientists??

Right. Home costs:              

Rent $1,500   
This is average for a 1,000 sf apartment in Montgomery County (rentcafe.com)

Renters ins $10
A number of people rolled their eyes at this. You should have it. Stop making that face.

Meals  $400
Keep in mind that the average meal at McDonalds is now $7.50. The $400 was arrived at as follows: $13/day – $3 breakfast, $4 lunch, $5 dinner, $1 snack. That is some pretty inexpensive eating and does not make a single allowance for dining out or going out with friends unless the new teacher skips all the meals in a day.

Cell phone  $75
This includes unlimited calls, texts and data and the phone payment. Before anyone complains about someone having a shiny new smart phone, imagine a teacher with a flip phone during the COVID crisis? That wouldn’t work well…

Internet/subscriptions   $100
This assumes the teacher already has a computer/smart tv and does not want cable or other bulk priced programming.

Utilities $150      
(numbeo.com) – this includes heating/cooling and would be less if that was included in the rent.

Total Housing costs for the starter teacher:

$2,315

This leaves our teacher with:

$941

But unless they are planning on somehow teaching from home, or managing heavy bags and items on public transportation – I’ve tried it, it’s a nightmare – then the new teacher will need a car.

Payment $437
$25,000 car, no down payment, 1.9% interest, 60 months

Insurance $136.75
average car insurance for individuals in their 20-s (thezebra.com)

Maintenance $100
I see you, the same people who rolled your eyes at the Renters Insurance. You like to live dangerously and not prepare for what you know is coming…

Gas $23
(15 gallon tank, 30 mpg, $3 gallon, 30 miles a day)

$697

Our teacher made it with

$244 !!!

to spare! They have an apartment, a car, and some pocket money…
wait…
why are they crying?

oh….

The teacher had to take some loans out while in college. The teacher was careful, only $5,000 a semester for books, fees, and some other expenses. And it really helped with the student teaching when they couldn’t work.

But now they have to be repaid. And while the teacher is eligible for an income based repayment plan – that will be…(mappingyourfuture.org)

$515

And now you understand why rounding off change here, or fudging a number there, didn’t matter much in the end.

Now the teacher has to make a choice…what are they going to leave out? Will they not have a car? Will they have to get roommates that might be loud and obnoxious and interrupt their ability to grade or plan. Or function if they are kept up late and cannot sleep?

And notice there’s no money for personal exploration – travel, museums. How is the teacher supposed to grow, learn, and bring experiences to the students if all they can afford to do is drive back and forth from their small apartment to the classroom?

And then remember, teachers pay for students items out of their own pocket…so that means sacrificing a meal here, or gas there so the students don’t go without.

It’s not surprising that teachers leave Montgomery County – it’s not like the county is welcoming and supportive of them, creating an environment where they can not just survive, but thrive and grow. We need solutions to the simplest of situations – how do we pay our new teachers enough to join and work in our community?

I have an idea or two how to make our teachers feel more than welcome – how to make them feel they are at home.

And to those of us who have homeschooled our children during the pandemic…you have an appreciation for how difficult the job is and how vital to keep the best of the best.