Education job gains modest as salaries stagnate
By Marilyn Bowden
Miami-Dade Public Schools has already implemented system-wide changes to help meet the workforce requirements of One Community One Goal, the Beacon Council's ambitious five-year plan to create 75,000 jobs in seven key industries. But employment within education is experiencing very modest gains, with salaries remaining stagnant.
Education is the foundation from which to build employment within One Community One Goal's targeted industries, said Alberto M. Carvalho, Miami-Dade superintendent of schools.
"Focusing on private and public education is one of the top themes of the plan," he said. "Each one of the seven targeted industries will require a highly educated workforce well-versed in technology."
Among the school system's initiatives, Mr. Carvalho said, are the launching of new iPrep Academies — specialized high schools with a strong focus on technology — and 36 new magnet programs for this school year alone.
Bringing Wireless to the Classroom, a successful campaign to raise $7 million by the end of last January, earned $70 million in a federal matching grant to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to every public school.
"This journey has been about reinventing public education in Miami-Dade," Mr. Carvalho said, "as a means not only to prepare for an ever-changing economy, but also targeted training in seven specific industries key to our county's economic development.
"The delivery of high-quality education is the moral imperative of our generation. We cannot fix it over a decade. It needs to be done now, and quickly."
But teacher advocates fear that among all these reforms, teachers are being left behind.
According to Rebecca Rust, director and chief economist of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's Labor Market Statistics Center, there were an estimated 42,245 teaching jobs in public and private schools across Miami-Dade County in 2011.
"These are expected to grow by 13%, or over 5,500 positions, from 2011 to 2019," she said. "There are an estimated average of 1,580 annual openings between 2011 and 2019 from both growth and replacement needs in Miami-Dade County. Slightly less than half of these openings — 890 annually — are expected to be from growth of the sector, while slightly more than half of the job openings — 690 annually — are expected to be from the need to fill in existing job openings due to retirements."
The state's projections show an annual change of under 2% through 2019 (a little over 2% for special education teachers).
While enrollment in the county's public schools increased by about 2,800 students last year, according to the school system's Assessment, Research and Data Analysis Division, the number of teachers employed dropped from 20,322 to 19,592.
Mr. Carvalho said no teachers were laid off. "We have protected every teacher from termination for economic reasons," he said.
At the same time, the average 10-month salary for public school teachers decreased slightly from $52,440 in 2010-'11 to $52,007 last year. Base salaries for 2011-'12 ranged from $38,500 for entry-level teachers with a bachelor's degree to $75,425 for experienced teachers with doctoral degrees.
John Schuster, chief communications officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, attributed the decrease to retirements of teachers earning at the higher end of the wage scale, as well as to the general state of the economy.
Karen Aronowitz, president of United Teachers of Miami-Dade, the local arm of the National Education Association, calls these salary levels "extreme abuse of teachers."
"Teacher salaries are falling behind other professionals more and more," she said.
The state Department of Economic Opportunity computes the mean hourly wage of primary, secondary and adult education teachers in Miami-Dade public and private schools at $25.02. In contrast, the mean hourly wage for accountants is $36.23; computer programmers, $37.19; electrical engineers, $43.57; human resource managers, $53.48.
"If the state doesn't find adequate funding," Ms. Aronowitz said, "we will see an exodus from the profession as the economy improves. We don't pay beginning teachers enough, and there is no incentive to stay with it.
"We have put paper across the table to bring starting salaries up, but there is no true interest in paying teachers. There has been a decade-long complaint that we are overloaded with bad teachers, but because of the recession and lack of funding for public education, wages have been absolutely flat. And yet it is teachers who sustain the system."
The federal Pay for Performance scheme is not an incentive, she said, because it is based on factors teachers can't control.
"Pay for Performance is based on a constant upward march of student test scores throughout your career," Ms. Aronowitz said. "If you are teaching at a higher-performing school one year and move to a lower-performing school the next, those test scores may decline. So even if they increase for the students you are teaching, your individual score declines.
"It's voodoo math. Teaching is not a sales commission job. We cannot manufacture test scores for our students."
Underpaying for middle-class positions, she said, undermines the community because it takes discretionary income that would have been spent locally away from local business.
Ms. Aronowitz said United Teachers of Dade has a suggestion, unveiled in a press conference in May, for where funds for increased teacher salaries could come from.
"We have a lot of homestead exemption fraud in Miami-Dade," she said. "Since 40% of property taxes go to public schools, closing that gap would bring hundreds of millions into our school system. People who take homestead exemptions they are not entitled to are taking money out of the pockets of the people in our community."
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.