Over the past several years, I’ve reflected a fair bit on my life. Thinking about times past is not a new thing for me – for decades I have happily recalled particular plays from high school football or baseball games, for example – but for one reason or another my thoughts of late have turned increasingly introspective. And when I think about the biggest influences on my life, coaches and teachers always come to the fore.
My parents, dead ringers for Frank and Estelle Costanza of “Seinfeld” fame, had something to do with this. Whilst they argued over whether the Dead Sea or the Red Sea was the best sea, I fought to tune them out. On the rare occasion I turned to them for help or guidance, they mostly came up empty.
What I have lately come to realize is that much would have turned out poorly for me except for one saving grace in my life – Polytechnic School (Pasadena, CA). Well known to college admissions officers throughout the country, Poly is one of the finest private schools in the country. It was at Poly that I found adults that I could learn from, adults who I could appreciate, and consequently, adults that I would listen to. Poly made all the difference.
We’ve got seven public schools in Scarsdale, and our district is a beacon of what a public education can and should be. Of course it has flaws (as did my beloved Poly), but in the end we have a special district run by excellent administrators and superb teachers. Any organization with 400 employees has a bottom ten percent, of course, but we really do have a remarkable set of teachers. And for many of our students, these teachers (as mine did for me) make a real, noticeable impact on their lives – an impact that will be felt for decades.
If I have learned anything in my life, it is that great teachers are worth almost any reasonable, market-based price. Great teachers are a scarce commodity – the trick is finding them and hiring them and keeping them.
Many of us in the private sector have seen our pay cut, or our pensions taken away or our medical benefits diminished. Or perhaps all three. And some of us have lost our jobs outright. But unlike some in this town, I’m not looking to get my pound of flesh to even the score. In fact, I see the growing regional hostility toward teacher pay as a potential competitive advantage. If others look to violently clamp down and Scarsdale remains reasonable, we can more easily hire the best and the brightest.
When you decide to make teaching your life’s work, you are voluntarily choosing to put a cap on your lifetime earnings. One can calculate this cap with a fair amount of precision. If I work Y years, and get a Master’s degree, once I have been working 30 years I will make $X. Though the earnings cap is real, teachers get excellent benefits and generous vacation, and tenure. This is the essential bargain that they have signed up for.
Now, many want to change the bargain. Leaving tenure aside (I am not a fan), suppose someone began teaching at age 24 and is now 45 years old. They went into the profession having struck the bargain above. Now, midstream, many want to change the bargain. It isn’t ethical.
Unlike teaching, there is no cap on what an individual can earn in the private sector. For a captain of industry or an internet innovator, financial reward is theoretically unlimited. Teachers knowingly accept this reality when they choose the profession. But they also “know” that the benefits are excellent and so, again, they strike the bargain.
So, what to do? I’d suggest a few things. Regarding pension, the state should create a two tiered system. One for new teachers and one for those already in the system. New teachers would not even have a traditional pension, but they’d know this coming in, and can choose a different profession if this is a deal breaker. But those already in the system should continue to have the pension they signed up for. It simply isn’t right to change the bargain midstream.
Locally, I’d continue to pay top dollar for top talent. Great teachers and coaches made my life what it is today. Without Geoff Yure (Football) and Roger Ipswitch (Social Studies), I’m nothing. And that’s worth……..everything.
Jeff Blatt served on the Scarsdale Board of Education and lives in Greenacres with his wife Erin and daughters Charlotte, Josephine and Louisa. Mr. Blatt graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College in 1987 and served as Publisher of the daily campus newspaper, The Dartmouth and is currently on the newspaper’s Board of Directors. He earned his MBA beta gamma sigma via Columbia University's Executive Program in 1996.
In his professional career, he is CEO of Synapse Group, Inc. and QSP, Inc., both wholly owned subsidiaries of Time Incorporated. Synapse is a marketing solutions provider, lead generation company, and the largest third party marketer of magazine subscriptions in the United States. Prior to assuming his current posts, Mr. Blatt served as President of Time Direct Ventures (TDV), a division of Time Consumer Marketing that develops new channels of subscription sales for Time Inc. where he has worked in a variety of posts for 23 years.