Sunday, October 12, 2008


Op-Ed/Letter to the Editor of the Daily News by Terry Sobel


October 10, 2008 -- The Daily News has consistently portrayed teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District and their union as power grabbers who place their own interests above students' welfare.

I believe most teachers are hardworking professionals who have the best interests of students in mind as they go to work each day. The district is not struggling because teachers are too highly compensated.

LAUSD test scores are rising and are comparable to those in other large metropolitan districts in the nation with similar demographics. Large minority populations, immigrant students and large numbers of English-language learners, combined with relatively low per-pupil spending at the state level and low per capita family income within the district, produce a challenge for teachers.

Let me explain what it has taken for me to earn a $110,000 salary. I have been with the district since 1969. I have a degree in physical education, a teaching credential that took an additional year to earn, and a master's degree in motor learning from California State University, Northridge.

I have taken additional college courses to move to the top of the pay scale and have stayed with the district to earn career increments. I have hoarded sick days throughout my career and now have a balance of 200 days. I have been evaluated every other year with the highest degree of competence.

I have gone back to CSUN to earn another credential, which allows me to work with special-education students in our adapted physical education program. I have qualified for the adapted physical education national standards certificate through study and by taking an examination. I am a national board-certified teacher. Earning that certificate took two years.

I have had almost continuous training in the last decade dealing with English-language learners, cultural diversity and computer literacy. I go in to school by 6 a.m to exercise because I believe a physical-education teacher should be a physical role model to students. I work morning supervision and always teach summer session.

Let me tell you about my lifestyle. I am still married to my loving wife of 38 years. We raised three boys on my teacher's salary. My wife retired to raise our children and now works part time. Very few teachers can raise a family on one income. Many teachers are single or have spouses who work full time.

I am frugal in a Great Depression sense. I have not had a professional haircut in 30 years. Our "new" car is 20 years old, and my other car has 0.3million miles on it. I used money from my first district paycheck ($650) to buy it in 1970.

My bicycles have more miles on them than your car because I commute nearly 25 miles per day by bike. My diet consists mostly of oatmeal and peanut-butter sandwiches. I own one suit; it has moth holes in it and was purchased secondhand from a used-clothing store. I sometimes ponder what is the smallest amount of toothpaste I can use.

My wife and I do not exchange gifts at Christmas. I have not been to Europe and have been on an airplane fewer that 10 times in the last 10 years.

I took the publishing of my salary in the Daily News ("Top-heavy district," Sept. 28) as a breach of privacy, even though it is legal. Your paper could have accomplished essentially the same objective by merely stating the teacher's pay range and the average salary.

I am near retirement and, by sheer persistence and some good fortune, my wife and I are looking forward to a comfortable retirement. We will have just a little more money available, as I have just canceled my long-time subscription to your paper.


Terry Sobel is a physical-education teacher at John Burroughs Middle School in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles.

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