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Education: Pay Site

Anti-strike Web site publishes Pittsburgh teacher salaries

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The salary your child's homeroom teacher earns is a matter of public record. Even so, that doesn't mean most parents, or taxpayers, actually go to the trouble of finding out what it is.

But in Pittsburgh, the task just got a lot easier, thanks to a Web site launched by staunch opponents of teachers' strikes.

The site,www.stopteacherstrikes.org, details the salary of every teacher -- by name -- in more than 30 school districts throughout Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh teachers were added to the list in December. According to the site, the median salary for a Pittsburgh public teacher is $70,000. That compares favorably to median salaries in, say, Westmoreland County's Greensburg-Salem ($47,860) and Seneca Valley School District ($49,864), where there has been a long-running labor dispute.

The site's founder, Simon Campbell of Bucks County, makes no bones about his agenda for posting the material -- which is accompanied by background information on teachers' strikes in the state. "There is no excuse for teachers' strikes," he says. "It's outrageous that this is allowed in Pennsylvania."

Pittsburgh attracted his attention, he says, because the teachers union has threatened a strike even though "teachers are doing well financially in the district." To support that belief, Campbell sent a formal "Right-to-Know" request to the district, seeking names and salary amounts. Campbell says district officials complied by sending him the list last month.

Numerous Pittsburgh school teachers contacted by City Paper declined to comment for this story. Off the record, some raised privacy concerns about having their salaries posted online. Others said that teachers' pay is usually reflective of extensive education and experience, but that Campbell's site makes no mention of such expertise.

John Tarka, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, says he's not upset about the salaries being posted; such information is a matter of public record for all public employees. Nor does Tarka (whose own salary is listed as $77,800) complain of inaccuracies in Campbell's data. Still, he objects to the site's overall tone.

"The union is a valuable resource for teachers, the district and the community," he says. "[The Web site] tries to portray teachers in a negative light."

Tarka would not comment on current union negotiations, which have been ongoing since October, when teachers voted 2,666 to 234 in favor of striking if necessary. The teachers' contract expired in June of last year.

Ultimately, Campbell wants to preclude a strike in Pittsburgh ... and everywhere else in the state.

Teachers in 37 states are prohibited from striking. But the 1970 Public Employee Relations Act gave Pennsylvania teachers the right to strike. A 1992 law partially restricted that right, by preventing strikes from interfering with the state-mandated 180-day year. Still, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association has documented 100 strikes since that law was enacted -- and Campbell says one strike is too many.

"A child's right to a strike-free education supersedes a teacher's right to strike," he contends.

And forfeiting that right, he says, might not hurt teachers at all. His site links to a 2006-2007 annual salary survey taken by the National Education Association, which shows that strikes are prohibited in seven of the 10 states where salaries are highest. (Pennsylvania ranks ninth on the list.)

"No data suggests strikes benefit teachers financially," Campbell says.

Tarka counters that Campbell is trying to have it both ways. On one hand, he says, the site claims they make too much money, and on the other hand, it argues they don't make as much as teachers from non-striking states.

"They are using the same facts in dissimilar ways," he says.

Tarka argues that non-striking states have higher average salaries "not because of the absence of the right to strike, but because of the make-up of the districts" and their tax bases.

Asked if he was anti-union, Campbell said, "yes and no." His anger, he says, is directed more toward union leaders than teachers themselves.

"Most teachers just want to teach," he says. But "Most of the time, union leaders are not serving teachers' interests."

"That's absurd," retorts Tarka, who notes that Pittsburgh teachers voted in favor of a strike authorization by a wide margin -- and by secret ballot. "We devote our professional lives to the improvement of teachers and school districts."

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