By Kaye Smith
Special to The Globe
PIERCE CITY, Mo. —
Caroline Tubbs, you are my heroine. I’ve never been so impressed with a column (Globe, April 2), including nationally syndicated columnists.
Let me tell my somewhat (not exactly) related experience as a public schoolteacher.
My husband died Dec. 11. He had spent 31 years in public education, progressing from elementary teacher (back when that was first through eighth grade) to high school principal and finally to superintendent, but also had worked in the private sector and ended up collecting full Social Security. He was our family’s major breadwinner. All those figures you see about average teacher salaries are skewed because the people at the top make considerably more than classroom teachers. Nothing wrong with that; that’s how it works with all businesses.
There was a nine-year difference in our ages, so he didn’t get caught in the law that was passed some years ago that said he couldn’t be penalized for drawing both Social Security and teacher retirement. He was “grandfathered” in (pun intended).
But I was penalized. I spent two-thirds of my 50-year working life in the private sector and the past 16 years teaching in public schools. When I retired, I was told I could not even collect the bottom level of Social Security because of my public school teaching. I collected a low teacher retirement and $89 in Social Security. When my husband died, I received a letter telling me I was eligible for spousal benefits, but they couldn’t pay them. Why? Because I collected another government check (paltry retirement). Oh, those greedy public schoolteachers! Theirs is the lowest-paid profession requiring a college degree, usually postgraduate courses, and certification to practice.
Whose bright idea was this? It’s going on all over the country — Wisconsin, etc. Let’s cut back on teachers, police, firefighters, etc., because we need money in our public coffers to fund tax breaks for wealthy corporations to move to our states.
I now live at the poverty level. I should have stayed in the private sector. At least we would not have both been in a system that takes such a dim view of retirement benefits for public school teachers. I’ll survive by the skin of my teeth, but someone needs to back up and take a good look at this.