Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Legislators’ plan to cut pensions betrays educators

I am writing today because of the proposed changes to the Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System. As a native Vermonter, I have been an educator since 1995, teaching a variety of subjects and students in the Vergennes, Burlington, and Middlebury school districts. Most of these years, I designed and taught camp-like programs, such as the “Shark Tank Start-Up” that was lauded by Governor Scott, during the summers to offer rich and real-world experiences to our most vulnerable students. Also, I serve on numerous unpaid local and state committees, task forces, and boards to ensure equitable opportunities for Vermont’s children. Like my respected colleagues, I am a teacher through and through.
Over the years, I have witnessed many family and friends earn larger salaries than I do within their first couple of years of graduating college despite my holding a Master’s Degree (plus 30+ additional credits) and National Board Teacher Certification along with working continuously these years. While dedicated and competent employees, these members do not work well beyond their contractual hours nor pay for their office supplies out of their own pockets without getting reimbursed. Teachers do.
Whenever my husband, a business owner, lamented that I should be working in the private sector making significantly higher wages given my education, expertise, and work ethic, I have always countered that I make a difference in the lives of so many young people and that my pension offers me some reward when I retire. I love my profession and do receive many emotional rewards from being an educator. But I give to my community, too. When a current or former student needs a letter of recommendation or help with an application, I give. When the students at school sponsor a food drive for the local agency, I give. When the student asks for a donation to an organization or cause, I give. When a child needs a ride home or to a special event, I give. When a kid needs lunch money or a snack to get through the day, I give. When a teen needs a winter coat, I give. When a student’s family loses its home to fire or eviction, I give. When a student’s family member battles cancer, I give. Well beyond the couple of thousand dollars of classroom supplies and resources for my students that I acquire annually in receipts, I, like other teachers, give generously. I will carry these memorable moments in my heart, but memories will not pay the bills.
Given the proposed pension changes and my being not that far from retirement, I feel like my contributions, including financial, are being discounted, devalued, and disregarded. I, too, pay property, sales, and income taxes in Vermont. Like other teachers, I make the required contributions to the pension fund. Even after The State of Vermont significantly underfunded the pensions for seventeen years, 1990-2007, teachers agreed to changes in our pensions in 2010 that require us to contribute more and to work additional years. Now, because The State of Vermont has not been a good steward of this fund, it seeks to ask even more of its compassionate and committed educators … some of us at the twilight of our careers and have fulfilled our obligations all these years.
Over 70% of teachers are women. Given the wage difference between teaching and other professions, and if these proposed changes are enacted, what message does this send to the women of our state? Might they infer that Vermont is not very progressive as it perpetuates gender income inequality? I wonder why a predominantly female profession must be the one to bear this burden.
Additionally, one must question the integrity of our leaders if these changes are enacted. I know these changes will have significant short-term repercussions and long-term ramifications. The implications will not only impact me as I will need to get a second job or seek early retirement to pursue another profession, but will affect the educational system and our children also. How will Vermont expect to attract and keep intelligent, skilled, and dedicated educators? Why would any prospective educator have faith that Vermont would keep any of its future promises? Vermont’s children — as well as its local and state economies — benefit from having teachers who live, work, and invest in their communities.
A pension is far more than a promise. It is an indication of what an entity, individual, or community values. Do you value Vermont teachers? Do you value our profession’s service to Vermont children? Do you value integrity and commitment? If so then you must prevent any aspect of this proposal from being passed by the legislature so that Vermont upholds its commitment to its educators.
Martha Santa Maria, M.Ed., NBCT
Addison

Share this story:

More News
Education Op/Ed

Editorial: School budgets deserve OK, but process needs tweaking

As voters within MAUSD learned this past week, defeating such budgets have real consequenc … (read more)

Op/Ed

Living Together: Poverty causes trauma in children

In my decades of work with disadvantaged Vermonters, I have seen assistance programs come … (read more)

Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Kite flying proves a fun reminder

This Easter, feeling so sad about the ways of the world as well as recent personal losses, … (read more)

Share this story: