Kansas state Rep. Greg Smith thinks schoolteachers should accept pay cuts to "help the students," as he put it in a recent e-mail. Smith was responding to an e-mail from a teacher and coach at Shawnee Mission East High School, who complained about state budget cuts.
Smith, who also teaches in the Shawnee Mission School District, is knowledgeable about public education. But his 16-point answer to his colleague omitted one crucial piece of information: Teachers in Kansas are already among the lowest-paid in the United States.
Smith's "take one for the team" message coincides with the arrival of an update on teacher pay by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank that focuses on the economic condition of low- and middle-income Americans. The study indicates that Kansas teachers on average make $804 a week, bettering educators only in Oklahoma and Mississippi.
In February, Smith, a Republican, voted to reduce funds for schools by $75 per student. Districts are figuring out ways to manage the reduction in state aid. Earlier this month, Shawnee Mission school superintendent Gene Johnson recommended $8.3 million in budget cuts and fee increases. Johnson's announcement led Chip Ufford, a wrestling and football coach at East, to reach out to Smith. In an e-mail, Ufford asked Smith if he had participated in extracurricular activity when he was in school.
Smith said yes, he did, and went on to defend his decision making. He noted that 53 cents of every tax dollar the state brings in goes to K-12 education. He criticized the school-funding formula, which takes tax dollars raised in Johnson County and spends them elsewhere, calling it a "travesty." He said he offered an amendment to raise the ceiling on the amount of money that school districts can raise to supplement state aid.
All good points, but Smith does lean a little hard on the jerk button. He mentions twice that he's not receiving wages or benefits from the school district this semester. Of course, he's not teaching, either. He's in Topeka, receiving the salary and benefits that come with being a state lawmaker.
Smith closes his e-mail by asking Ufford:
Are you willing to put some skin in the game like I have? Are you willing to take a pay cut to help the students? Or are you an NEA neophyte that believes as the NEA president does when he said, "I'll care about students when they are old enough to vote?"Smith was apparently attempting to quote Albert Shanker, who is neither alive nor the president of the National Education Association. Shanker ran the American Federation of Teachers, a different union. Here's the quote that's attributed to him, which is not as cold as the one Smith presented:
When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.At his death in 1997, Shanker was remembered for being obstinate as well as a "champion of rigorous educational standards," as The New York Times wrote in his obituary. Shanker, the Times said, "called for a national competency test for teachers, pay increments tied to teacher quality and more rigorous requirements for high school graduation."
Sheesh, sounds almost like a Republican.