I write this column not only as a senior citizen and a former educator, but also as a property owner and taxpayer, and I do not see the two in conflict.
The bulk of my (somewhat-limited) income is from Social Security (from my late husband’s account) and City of Atlanta pension, and I admit that I enjoy and appreciate some reduced tax bills because of my advanced age. I have, however, never resented paying my fair share of local, state and federal taxes.
Of course, I also admit that I resent the lack of payment of that same “fair share” by corporations and individuals whose income is such that they probably would never even miss the tax amounts they would pay if they did not have incentives, cuts and loopholes.
Actually, I have paid income taxes since my teens and property taxes since my 20s, although in Dawson County only since 1972 (property). And even without children or grandchildren in this school system, I have been proud to support it.
Many people, in addition to my family, supported my own education in another time and place. If education is important to society, then all citizens should share in the responsibility to fund it, not just those who currently have family members in the system.
I remember when I became a teacher in Atlanta Public Schools (not my first teaching job) in 1959, there were many in that system who complained about the fact that funds were diverted to smaller, poorly funded systems in other parts of the state. My reply was consistent with my present attitude: “I am a product of one of those other systems, but of whatever value I may be as a teacher, Atlanta has the benefit.”
Without wanting to sound like bragging, I add this fact: The next school year (60-61) I was Atlanta’s (and Georgia’s) STAR teacher. Hopefully, I was a benefit.
Now the shoe may be on the other foot: The Atlanta system may receive some funds paid in by other parts of the state. The fact remains that whatever money is spent on educating children in one area of Georgia eventually benefits the whole state, and there is no way that the majority of parents can pay the bill to educate their own children. It is an obligation that we all share.
I dare say that most of the present and retired educators in Dawson County are also taxpayers, contributing to their own incomes. They also contribute to their own health insurance, a premium, incidentally, which has been recently raised and will undoubtedly increase again. One reason for this necessity is that the reserve of over $300,000,000 that State Health Benefit Program (SHBP, which controls health insurance for state employees, including teachers) held in January of 2009 has been depleted to help balance the state budget.
Hopefully, the Georgia Teacher Retirement System will not suffer the same fate. Dawson County educators pay into TRS rather than into Social Security. As for state funding of the county’s school system, most everyone knows what has been happening to that — cuts, cuts, cuts, and those cuts began before the recent economic downturn.
The school system’s financial director has stated that since 2003, the state has made “austerity cuts” to Dawson County of $10,500,000, with the expectation that more severe cuts will be forthcoming.
Teachers’ salaries have definitely improved since I entered the field, but they have never been really enticing. And don’t be misled by those who complain about educators’ short working hours and summer holidays.
Neither I nor most teachers I have known have completed their workday when the dismissal bell rings. Some have after-school duties; all have homework. The hours spent in the classroom require many more in preparation and follow-up.
Many educators attend meetings and workshops, take courses, and spend time and money keeping certificates updated and just learning new things. And while in some places, there are unions who may explore collective bargaining or even go on strike, such is not the case in Georgia.
So, if you think your school board and all the system employees are having an easy time at your expense, you may want to investigate a little further.
If you haven’t walked in those shoes, perhaps you can talk with someone who has.
Helen Taylor’s column appears periodically in the Dawson Community News.