Both of my grandfathers were parochial school teachers in the 1920s. One was a teacher and a preacher. They were given a house to live in by the parish in exchange for being the sole teacher in the school.

They were given a pittance of a salary and had to rely on raising a few chickens to make ends meet. My grandmothers stayed home and took care of their children and did some of the chores around their small farms. On behalf of education, my grandparents made many sacrifices.

My grandfather’s counterparts in the public school arena, when one-room schoolhouses dotted the landscape, were teachers, mostly women, who boarded with a family, stayed at home or rented a room. Their salary was taken care of by the families who sent their kids to that school. Like my grandfather’s salary, it wasn’t much.

Women teachers were paid about one-half of what a male teacher earned. For some reason, people got the idea that teachers shouldn’t make much money and that schools shouldn’t cost too much.

With school consolidation, country schools closed their doors. Coupled with the rise of the baby boom generation, local community school classrooms filled up quickly. How were they to be paid for? The answer was taxes, which is how we pay for everything else.

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In spite of the importance of education, increasing taxes for schools has always been problematic. We ask questions like, "Why do schools need more money?" "Doesn’t the state give them enough?" "Don’t teachers make enough already?"

Thanks to unions, teachers today make a middle income type salary and teachers deserve it just like other union workers. We can thank Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey for standing up and supporting all unions throughout his career. It was Humphrey who said, "The story of the labor movement needs to be taught in every school in this land... America is a living testimonial to what free men and women, organized in free democratic trade unions can do to make a better life … we ought to be proud of it!" His very last speech in 1977 before he died of cancer was in front of union people. His legislation made America better.

Teaching is a challenging profession and it doesn’t get easier. As many as 41.3% of all teachers in the U.S. will leave the profession within the first five years. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, about 500,000 (15%) teachers in the U.S. leave the profession every year. Why? Because teaching is tough. It’s exhausting. You have to love it to stay in it.

Our kids are in school about 180 days a year or approximately eight hours a day—longer if they participate in school activities and also longer when you include the bus ride to and from school. If the amount of tax we pay should rise, how much would we end up paying per hour to support our schools?

The median Beltrami County property value is $143,800 with a property tax rate of $1,366. Let’s assume our home is worth $200,000. We were giving $4.81 per month for schools but with an increase in taxes of $7.49 per month, we would end up paying $12.30 per month or $147 per year.

If we divide this $147 by 180 days in which our kids are in school, we come up with about 82 cents a day or about $1 per hour regardless of how many kids we send to school or how long they stay in school each day.

What do we get for $1 an hour to have our taxes increased? Our kids receive a first-class education taught by trained professionals. Minnesota schools remain some of the best in the nation. Our kids receive first-class professional child care.

Our kids attend schools which have as their No. 1 priority, child safety. Since the pandemic, all kids receive free meals. Oh, and let’s not forget a free ride to and from school. If they choose, our kids can participate in a plethora of extracurricular activities.

I want to return to teacher salaries because they always create some interesting discussions. As of September of this year, a Minnesota teacher's starting salary was between $40,000 and $53,000. The average teacher salary is $63,000 but the average range is from $55,000 to $73,000 (a bit higher or lower depending upon the district). If a teacher starts out at around $40,000 and teaches for 30-35 years, they may be making $75,000 depending upon the degrees and credits they have earned during their teaching lifetime.

You might think that $75,000 is a pretty good salary for 180 days of the year, but they live for 365 days a year. Think about this. A teacher puts four or five or six years into college. The cost for a state college is between $12,000 and $15,000 a year and private schools like St. Olaf, Gustavus, Carlton or Concordia may run as high as $60,000 to $80,000 a year. That is a huge investment.

Many students accumulate enormous debts. When they secure their first teaching job at around $45,000 a year and then have to pay off the debt plus rent (there is no way they can afford to buy a house) and other expenses, there isn’t much left of that paycheck. Like many of you, most teachers live from paycheck to paycheck.

Staff salaries do take a big chunk (70% to 80%) of monies generated for education. Of course, this is true in any profession. Schools are usually the largest employer in a community (District 31 employs about 960 people) and aren’t we lucky to have them? Schools mean jobs and jobs make a community grow.

It’s not just classroom instruction we are talking about when it comes to schooling costs. Today’s education is a complex profession requiring needs not even imagined decades ago when a slate and a piece of chalk was about all teachers could expect.

My first teaching job as a physical education teacher was in a church basement. My second and third jobs were in schools without a gymnasium. My fourth job teaching English as a second language was in a temporary building with nothing in it but 30 desks and a lot of dust. I didn’t complain, I just went and did my job like most teachers.

No matter which way you cut it, local property tax money used to help fund public school education is the best bargain we have in the United States. Is it still too expensive? That depends on how much you and I value education. Is it beneficial to everyone? Do we obtain any good from it? If we didn’t have it, would our community, state, country be better or worse? So, is it worth spending a dollar an hour more of property tax money to send our kids to school? I say, "What a bargain!"

Interesting but my one set of grandparents were never able to afford their own home and my other grandparents did not own their first home until after my grandfather retired. But it wasn’t the love of money they were after, it was the love of teaching.

(I will continue with the ABCs of antique collecting next week, which I began last week.)

Riddle: What did the math book say to the geometry book? (Answer: Boy, do we have problems. Yes, it’s a challenge to come up with money to fund our schools. Every community faces it. What if, however, there were no schools to fund?)


Thanks to Northwestern Mutual Insurance in Bemidji for supporting the 100% graduation rate initiative.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.