Give Lawrence school board member Rich Minder points for creativity, but his idea of establishing a “teacherage” to provide subsidized housing for local teachers seems unlikely to catch on.
Minder pointed out that, 100 years ago, it was common for communities to maintain that kind of housing for their teachers. A hundred years ago, it was common for school district patrons to board teachers in their homes and force female teachers to resign their jobs when they got married. Not everything about the good ol’ days was good.
But when it comes to modern-day teacher salaries, if Lawrence teachers aren’t making enough to afford to pay for housing in Lawrence, something is wrong. It’s not uncommon in high-rent resort towns like Aspen, Colo., for low-paid hotel and restaurant workers to commute from nearby towns with lower housing costs. But if housing costs in Lawrence have surpassed the financial capabilities of professional, full-time teachers, things have gotten out of whack.
A local co-chair for the Lawrence Education Association was willing to consider Minder’s idea, but added, “…it still begs the question: When will we pay our professionally educated public school teachers a professional wage?”
It’s a good question. These are college-educated people, many with advanced degrees, and yet, we expect them to view some kind of district-owned, low-cost, communal-style housing as a meaningful job perq? It’s a little demeaning.
The school district also should think carefully before getting into the housing business. Minder suggests that teacher housing could be paid for from the district’s capital outlay budget. Money from that budget can’t be used to raise teacher salaries, but it could be used for teacher housing. However, after funding athletic projects at the city’s two high schools, the school board already has had to delay needed capital projects at various schools. They could raise more money for that budget by raising local property taxes even more, but this hardly seems the right time to consider that move. There also would be the matter of ongoing maintenance of teacher residences, which presumably would be the district’s responsibility.
Responding to Minder’s idea, School Superintendent Rick Doll acknowledged, “There are things other than salary that are important to teachers.” Chief among those things probably is the recognition and respect of the community for the important work teachers do. Higher salaries are a tangible way to show that respect; building a local “teacherage” probably isn’t.