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Report: Local, State Government Too Small, Teachers Fairly Paid

By MARA LEE

March 15, 2011

Connecticut teacher salaries are reasonable even though they're among the highest in the nation, and the combined size of state and local government is too small in this state.

Those were two of the conclusions published in a quarterly journal released Tuesday by researchers from the University of Connecticut, who picked hot-button topics to coincide with the state's budget debate.

The spring issue of The Connecticut Economy also said that Connecticut is fourth from the bottom among all states in public spending as a fraction of residents' income.

Economics Professor Dennis Heffley focused on the more than 48,000 public school teachers in the state, in a piece called "Connecticut Teachers: Overpaid or Just Making the Rent?"

Heffley noted that teachers' compensation is under fire because of their hours, wages, job security and generous health insurance and retirement benefit packages.

He showed that average annual wages for teachers in Connecticut ranged from $61,870 in kindergarten, No. 4 in the nation at that level, to $67,710 in middle school, the nation's highest at that level.

Although Connecticut is among four states paying teachers the most at every grade level, it also has the second highest overall wages after Massachusetts, Heffley showed.

In comparison to the state's average wages, however, Connecticut teachers' pay falls from the top of the list. For example, Connecticut high school teachers made 1.3 times the state average wage in 2009, ranking the state at No. 17, Heffley showed. By that measure, Connecticut's middle school teachers ranked 6th, elementary teachers 5th, and kindergarten teachers 15th.

Heffley, whose daughter is a teacher, said comparing teachers' wages to other Connecticut workers' earnings is fairer than just looking at which state pays teachers most.

"We try to make people aware you have to go beyond the raw data," he said.

He also noted that it doesn't make sense to compare teachers to all workers, given that all elementary through high school teachers have college degrees, and a minority of all workers have college degrees.

An examination of federal data shows that Heffley's report included private school teachers, whose wages averag about $10,000 less than their public school counterparts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Heffley did not compare Connecticut graduation rates and test scores with other states where teachers are well paid.

"Blaming teachers or any other worker group for public budget deficits may be no more rational than blaming your plumber for the clogged drain," Heffley wrote, to conclude his article.

The Connecticut Education Association, a teachers' union, helped underwrite the publication, but their views did not influence its contents, editor Steven Lanza said.

Lanza wrote a piece about the optimal size of government in the quarterly report, and concluded that Connecticut's government is too small. The state should invest more in infrastructure and education, he said.

He said that states and towns collect taxes equivalent to 18 percent of residents' earnings, and they should be collecting at least 20 percent and if they did, the state's workers would produce more goods and services.

Lanza acknowledged that most state residents would not agree with his conclusions, and suggested that may be because the tax burden is too highly concentrated in property taxes.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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