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Posted at 9:14 AM ET, 05/17/2010

The real world of teachers

By Valerie Strauss

Here’s a story, from Today’s Sunbeam newspaper of Salem County, N.J., that takes us not into another education policy debate but rather talks about the daily struggles of teachers, and, in its own way, reflects the value our society places on teachers.

The beginning of the story is below, and you can go to the Sunbeam website for the rest and for a Star-Ledger analysis of teacher salaries in New Jersey.
Susan LiBrizzi, a divorced mother of four, earns $61,798 a year as a special-education teacher in the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District -- enough, she says, to pay the bills.

Over the years, she has taken on summer jobs -- cleaning houses, tutoring, baby-sitting -- for extra cash as her salary has increased by $300 or $400 a year.

Now LiBrizzi, who has taught for 14 years, is due a $4,000 raise -- and the governor wants her to give it back.

"I feel like staying middle-class is a struggle," said LiBrizzi, 48, who lives in Bridgewater. "I still have two more kids to put through college, and it’s scary."

In his quest to pressure teachers to accept a pay freeze, Gov. Chris Christie has portrayed them as a privileged class, untouched by the recession.

But a Star-Ledger of Newark analysis of the salaries of New Jersey’s nearly 113,000 public school teachers finds that more of them are like Susan LiBrizzi than like Rockefeller.

Most would be considered middle-class in New Jersey, making less on average than firefighters, cops, engineers and business middle managers, and more than social services workers and sales representatives.

Some of the findings from the analysis:
*The median pay among New Jersey’s public school classroom teachers is $57,467 a year, meaning half of them earn more than that, and half earn less. The average is $63,154, with more than half of the teachers earning from $40,000 to $60,000.

*New Jersey’s teachers are the fourth-highest-paid in the country, behind California’s, New York’s and Connecticut’s, and make nearly $10,000 more than the national average.

*Among public workers, the police in New Jersey are the highest-paid in the nation, with an average base salary of $75,400. Firefighters, on average, make $69,620, also highest in the country.

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By Valerie Strauss  | May 17, 2010; 9:14 AM ET
Categories:  Teachers  | Tags:  how much do teachers earn?, new jersey teachers salaries, salaries, star-ledger, teacher earnings, teacher salaries, teachers  
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Maybe the public workers in New Jersey have higher salaries than the national average, but what is the cost of living like? How much is a home?
Comparing salaries from the East Coast to the Midwest or South doesn't work because there is a 200,000 dollar difference in home prices.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 17, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Living in Jersey is not cheap.

Posted by: edlharris | May 17, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

No question about it: Susan LiBrizzi's is underpaid, mainly because teachers are paid according to a fixed pay scale based on years of experience and degree, and not based on supply and demand. This is all the fault of the unions, and therefore the fault of the teachers themselves.

Susan LiBrizzi is a special-education teacher and there are nearly always shortages of Special Ed teachers. There are also nearly always shortages of math and science teachers. Meanwhile, there are plenty of English teachers, social studies teachers, and art teachers. But since all teachers are subject to the same pay scale in each public school district, the special ed, math, and science teachers essentially subsidize the English, social studies, and art teachers.

Posted by: postisarag | May 17, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

We're supposed to feel bad because a woman making $61K/year doesn't get a raise? She's got a job. Cope.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | May 17, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

The whole story is good. Sadly, the newspaper which undertook the analysis was unwilling or unable spend on statistical and public-finance advice to help understand the data. So, there is a severe confounding of years-of experience, advanced training, and salary.
But, NJ is weird. Numerous school districts with fewer than five schools, and a superintendant (and likely his office staff, too.) The story reports a comparison of Toms River School District, enrollment of about 12,000 (and most bused). Total cost of administrator salaries is just 60% and $10 million less than those in a county of 20 school districts with the same total enrollment.

Much the same holds for other jurisdictions and government units in NJ. Competant, professional teachers. Idle, poorly-trained local gov workers waiting for the phone to ring.

Posted by: incredulous | May 18, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

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