Archive for Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Teaching professionals

Subsidized housing doesn’t seem like the best way to reward Lawrence teachers.

September 7, 2010


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.


notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

Maybe the problem isn't that teachers in Lawrence don't get paid enough to live in Lawrence, maybe it's that Lawrence is too expensive for a teacher to live in. This is not just a matter of semantics.

Maybe I have a different perspective. I moved to the Midwest from a part of the country were it's the norm, not the exception, to live somewhere other than where you work. Take, for example, the town of Stamford, CT, where a family of four can qualify for Section 8 assistance with an income of over $83K. It's not just teachers, but policemen, firemen, almost all city workers who can't afford to live there. (And the people that can afford it, the 'rich' residents? Most of them live there because they can't afford to live where THEY work, such as NYC.)

I don't live in Lawrence, so I'm just theorizing - but is it possible the problem is just a lack of affordable housing?

hail2oldku 7 years, 6 months ago

I understand what you are saying. I can tell you that I know a number of teachers who live in Lawrence but teach elsewhere. There's definitely something wrong in that picture when we have Lawrence teachers that can't afford to live in Lawrence, but teaching in some of the surrounding districts allows you to make enough to live in Lawrence.

jafs 7 years, 6 months ago


I think it's a combination of high costs of living relative to wages.

Unfortunately, the commuter group who works in KC or Topeka and lives here drove up the real estate market, since they can make more money in those cities.

When I moved here a bit over 10 years ago, many more people both lived and worked in Lawrence.

George Lippencott 7 years, 6 months ago

I think the counties overvaluing of properties drove up the market (at least in part). If you have numbers on commuters to KC I would love to see them. Nobody we know of who lives near us commutes to KC. Some commute to Topeka (senior state government employees) and they live here because they like to live here. I doubt they drove the market on a state salary.

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

Maybe it's a sign of the times - I don't want to use the word "progress" because that implies movement towards something better, and I'm not sure this is.

It does seem to have a snowball effect. The people who work in lower Manhattan in NYC can't afford to live there, so they live in the suburbs in Westchester and Fairfield Counties. The people that work there can't afford to live there, so they live further out, etc. I used to own a house in Fairfield County, probably the last small town where home prices hadn't taken off yet. In the two years we owned it, it more than doubled in value. My parents' house, in a neighboring, somewhat larger town, is worth almost 25 times what they paid for it. And the reason they moved there in the first place is because they couldn't afford a house in the city where my father worked and I was born, about 30 miles away. Even though I could make a lot more money moving back there, I'd never be able to afford to live there again. The funny part is, the nearest place I could afford to live now would be back in that city where I was born, 30 miles away, where prices have plummeted.

jafs 7 years, 6 months ago

So you're from the East Coast too, huh.

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

Don't think I've ever made any secret of that fact, and pretty sure I've mentioned it from time to time. Been around here for 20 years, though.

My icon might have been a clue ... ;)

KSManimal 7 years, 6 months ago

"Maybe the problem isn't that teachers in Lawrence don't get paid enough to live in Lawrence, maybe it's that Lawrence is too expensive for a teacher to live in. This is not just a matter of semantics."

Pretty astute observation.

It's a bit of both, actually. Lawrence's housing is well known for high cost relative to surrounding towns. But, Lawrence's teacher salaries are also well below many other commuting-distance towns. Within an hour's drive, teachers can earn anywhere from a couple thousand to $15K more compared to Lawrence. And that doesn't even include insurance benefits....

Clevercowgirl 7 years, 6 months ago

Have any teachers come forward to express this concern? Is this just Minders idea of a political platform? Finally, based on the blogs following last week's article, the general consensus was that this idea was completely out of touch with today's realities.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 6 months ago

Considering how Kansas legislators are constantly failing to meet financial demands and that Lawrence is the most expensive community in Kansas to reside due to high tax dollar demand and high cost of housing thanks to so much love of the housing bubble and boom town economics.

Academic standards can also diminish without a constant source of tax dollars at a appropriate level to support demand. Excellent teaching staff may also diminish as teachers look toward Blue Valley that does pay better.

Too many legislators are always throwing out that FEAR angle about schools wasting tax dollars. USD 497 may have a wasteful spending problem but certainly is not being directed at teaching salaries and academics. Some capitol improvement dollars should be allowed on academics and teaching salaries.

The fear should be how Kansas legislators do not finance our public school systems. In my opinion the majority of Kansas legislators harass the public education system.

I cannot support USD 497 moving into the residential housing industry. IMO they pay wayyyy tooo much on their land deals.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 6 months ago

The boom town economics was a nation wide fraud perpetrated on consumers by way of the Bush/Cheney admin turning a blind eye to the situation.

There are homeowners right here in Douglas County who have stopped making mortgage payments because they are losing money daily on their investment. Apparently some are still living in these homes after stopping the mortgage payments ...... some for more than two years.

60 minutes did a report on this mess which at the time noted there are more than 7 million homes on the market. That number is growing as those who could afford their homes at one time no longer can due to being among the 11 million who lost jobs.

Boom town economics = extreme inflation = bad for business and OUR cost of living,

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 6 months ago

Minder was just trying to rent out his empty Delaware Commons.It's all about priorities and that was his. Why is it we can pay athletes and entertainers all the BIG BUCKS but can't pay a decent living wage to those we trust with our childrens' futures?

jafs 7 years, 6 months ago

That's a very good question - it seems that our national priorities are quite skewed.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

"Minder was just trying to rent out his empty Delaware Commons."

Oh come on, grammaddy. His involvement in the Delaware Commons certainly played a part in his putting forward this idea, but the hurdles in making it the "Teachers' Commons" are considerable. First, the school board and then the voters of the school district would have to approve of the whole idea of providing housing for teachers, and then the school board/district would have to make a deal with the Delaware Commons to make that transformation (and Minder would have to recuse himself from any part of that process.) While there are some vacancies there, the fact is that most of them are occupied, and owner/occupants would need to be bought out before teachers could buy in.

homechanger 7 years, 6 months ago

Athletes and entertainers work for private market driven entities. Teachers work for government schools. Reduce government roll Voucher type system let parents decjde

Paul R Getto 7 years, 6 months ago

"Why is it we can pay athletes and entertainers all the big bucks but can't pay a decent living wage to those we trust with our childrens' futures?" === It's all economics (and bread and circuses), grammaddy. If people would line up for twelve hours, fight to get in and pay $50+ a seat to watch a great algebra teacher demonstrate her craft in front of the class and the crowd of thousands who paid to watch, teachers could make entertainers' salaries. This won't happen, of course. Teachers, nurses, police, firemen, etc, know they are public servants and that they work for the taxpayers. Money isn't the only thing that matters or which motivates people. We need to stop whipping this particular dead horse.

jafs 7 years, 6 months ago

The fact that people are much more willing to pay big bucks to watch sports events, rather than pay a little more in taxes so we can pay teachers more is hardly a "dead horse".

It indicates national priorities which are horribly skewed, which could and should be changed, in my opinion.

People don't work only for money, of course, but I would like to see compensation tied a bit more to things which actually benefit our society in meaningful ways.

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

You want to fund the school budget if we start paying teachers $12 million?

Aren't you afraid bigger 'markets' will steal away the franchise teachers?

Actually, I have no problem with paying teachers on the same basis we pay athletes: Based on performance.

Or how about we just had a choice on whether or not to send our kids to the public schools - and let the market decide what that's worth? Teachers would have the right to hire agents and ask for more. We'd have the right to send them elsewhere if the performance s***ed or if they asked too much. Better still, give me the money the state spends on keeping my kids in public school, and let me decide which 'team' to spend it on.

"I would like to see compensation tied a bit more to things which actually benefit our society in meaningful ways."

The "society" you refer to is made up of the same people that line up for twelve hours, fight to get in and pay $50+ a seat to watch the athletes. Apparently society sees a greater benefit to society in entertainment.

jafs 7 years, 6 months ago

Many people apparently do, and that's the problem. On this one, I stand by my assertion that a good education is more important than a sports event, and benefits our country more than any sporting/entertainment event. Even if many disagree with that.

I support the idea of holding teachers accountable, but only if it's done intelligently, and with the understanding that many other factors are involved with student success or failure.

The problem with privatizing schools is the obvious lack of consistency - I have a problem punishing poor kids because their parents don't make a lot of money. I'd rather see them have an equal opportunity to get well-educated.

You have a choice right now to send your kids to public or private schools - it's up to you.

As far as funding goes, those without children who will never use the system directly pay for it as well. The same goes for many of our systems - the idea of taxes is not that everyone pays for what they use - it's that we all pay into a pool which provides (in theory) benefits that are accessible to all, or benefit the society as a whole.

jafs 7 years, 6 months ago


When poor people can't do things, the right says "Make more money".

eric1889 7 years, 6 months ago

The 9 month school year is a thing of the past. Many districts have to have longer years to cover material for testing. As for time off, I would like to inform you that teachers are required to take classes, mostly in the summers, to renew their license. Teachers now days do not get a 3 month vacation.

George Lippencott 7 years, 6 months ago

You know JAFS that the people pAYING BIG BUCKS are probably not the people paying the taxes. If we taxed the rcih we might just have more money for teachers and more willingness on ther part of the rest of us to pay more taxes.

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

But that's for a season ticket, with around 180 home games.

beaujackson 7 years, 6 months ago

Rental housing costs in Lawrence are determined by how many KU students can be "crammed" into a house, even in single family zoned neighborhoods. This flawed zoning effectively turns a student rental house into an apartment, which is legal only in MF zoning).

Multiple unrelated renters should be limited to multi-family zoned neighborhoods.

The ONLY solution to exorbitant rental costs is for the city to prohibit more than two (2) unrelated persons renting in single family zoned neighborhoods.

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

Uh - wouldn't that increase the demand for units and cause a housing shortage, driving costs UP?

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

I've always wondered that myself, why some seem to think that at 22 and fresh out of college, with not a lot of real-world work experience and facing an entry-level position, that somehow they should be able to buy a house. I bought my first house when I was 27, working as a production manager at an electronics plant, and married to a CPA. And at that we used the money her father had left her for the down payment. And that was still quite a bit ahead of my father, who bought his first house (actually, his only house) when he was 39, and commuting 30 miles to a job as the comptroller of a very large corporation.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

"I suspect the proponent of this idea has money on his mind - his own. He is already involved in a housing development and now he wants the school district to give him more business."

As I pointed out in another thread, what you suggest doesn't require getting from point A to point B, but rather point A to point Z.

In other words, there are way too many hurdles involved in completing the grand master plan you accuse Minder of plotting for it to be taken as a serious motivation for his proposal.

Clevercowgirl 7 years, 6 months ago

I don't think that it is a conspiracy, but I do think that Minder has a personal agenda that he is all to willing to impose on others.

Clevercowgirl 7 years, 6 months ago

Oh, where to start. First and foremost, aren't School Board members elected to manage our educational system? Instead, we have Minder who feels that it is important to call a press conference to present his (no, not his) "teacherage" idea. This is because we need to give teachers some form of raise, when housing costs are so high.

  1. Real estate prices have actually dropped over the past 2 years in Lawrence.
  2. Interest rates are at a all time low.
  3. Tenured teachers are considered very stable borrowers for real estate loans.
  4. Due to the fact that Lawrence is grossly overbuilt in rental properties, rents tend to be lower in recent times, or negotiable.
  5. VERY FEW people are seeing any form of a raise.
  6. It is no coincidence that the communal teacherage that Minder proposes is aligned with his communal lifestyle and investments. No hint of impropriety here!
  7. I would highly recommend that Mr. Minder focus (?) more on helping to facilitate and improve our childrens academic environment, and less on how other people should live.

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