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Sherry Warner Seefeld, Published December 22 2012

Letter: A promised retirement benefit is not a ‘jackpot’

Jackpot? A Forum editorial (Nov. 30) referred to a retirement benefit as a jackpot. Seriously, an administratively promised payment for years of service is a jackpot?

Use of the word jackpot implies a sum of money awarded to a person for little or no effort or merit. Teachers in Fargo work hard and diligently to earn the longevity payment they receive from Fargo Public Schools. They have been working to save sick days for years. They followed the rules for a benefit they were promised in Administration Policy 5452, written and promised by administration, and not a part of the negotiated agreement.

The longevity retirement benefit was created to replace a much better benefit (taken away at that time) that allowed retired teachers to remain on the FPS group health insurance, as long as they continued to pay their premiums, a benefit many teachers in North Dakota and Minnesota still receive. The longevity payment was also an incentive for teachers to consider early retirement, enabling the district to hire new teachers at considerably lower salaries.

I question why The Forum and some in the community seem resentful of pay and benefits provided for the community’s public school teachers. There is this huge public lament about teaching quality but an even larger lament over paying a respectable professional salary that would attract and retain high-quality educators.

It is demoralizing to read that all of my personal expenditures of time and money are not valued. If one adds up all my hours of research, planning, grading, continuing education and professional development time besides those eight to nine hours I spend in a school building each school day, I easily work as many hours per year as any person who has a “normal” job.

I often wonder why a young person would take on the kind of job where they are constantly told by the public that they are not doing their job well, even though few of those critics have even the vaguest idea of what it is like to be a professional educator. I wonder why a young person would take on a job where the public consistently devalues them by insisting they did not have the right to, nor deserve, the pay and benefits they were told they would get when hired.

As a community, we are not only driving out our most experienced veteran teachers, we are scaring bright and talented young people away from our profession. Many students have told me their family members do not want them to go into teaching for these exact reasons.

Why don’t The Forum and our city celebrate paying the community’s teachers decently? Why wouldn’t a community want to show appreciation for its teachers by being proud of paying them well?

Perhaps people in our community would allow Fargo’s teachers to go over their payroll information. Think of how workers in all of Fargo’s professions would feel if people very publicly (in the media) not only frequently criticized all their work efforts but also second- guessed and criticized the amount of pay and benefits each person was getting. It isn’t right.

I do understand there are people in our city who make less money than teachers. Unless we are promoting communism here, I am assuming it is still actually OK for some people to make more money than others. I’m not sure why teachers should always feel they need to be apologizing for making enough money to do what everyone else wants to do – own a house, own a car, pay the bills, take a vacation.

Even at the top end of a teacher’s salary schedule, this can be a struggle. I don’t recall taking an oath of poverty when I began my career, but it sure feels like some people expect that I did.

Warner Seefeld is a teacher in Fargo Public Schools.