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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | VENTURA COUNTY LIFE

Perks Could Be Pay Dirt for Teachers

May 24, 2000|Steve Chawkins

We've got to do something about these bloated paychecks!

(Editor's note: Absolutely.)

Of course, the stories are commonplace by now.

There are the computer geniuses who buy tropical islands, where they raise rare orchids, which they fly to the mainland in corporate jets and rush from the airport in their personal stretch limos, just in time for the Junior Prom.

There are the cast members of "Friends," who will waltz off with more than $44 million each for the next two seasons of plopping down on soft couches inhabited by other gorgeous 20-somethings, drinking lots of coffee and having lots of sex.

But now there's a clever proposal from Sacramento that should calm the needles on every citizen's Indignometer: Gov. Gray Davis wants to exempt teachers from the state income tax.

What a marvelous idea! Tax Break for Teacher allows teachers more money without giving them a raise. This way, they won't get swelled heads and expect raises each and every decade.

(For the record, the program would give the most experienced teachers an exemption as high as $1,350--roughly the amount earned by an actor on "Friends" every 1.5 seconds.)

Of course, the idea has a few pitfalls.

For one thing, it invites lengthy and forlorn responses from other public employees, especially county supervisors, who are masters of the genre. "Don't we matter, too?" they'll ask. "Are teachers the only ones around here who do public service? Do you have any idea how many night meetings we attend, how many miles we drive, how many ribbons we cut, how many rivers we part, how many lepers we cure . . . ?"

Hal Vick, director of the teachers union in the Simi and Conejo districts, acknowledged that teachers need a host of benefits that money can't buy.

"But the greatest educational reform of all is raising salaries," he said. "In this country, there's a direct correlation between what you pay and the quality you get."

Even so, a tax exemption is so innovative . . . so outside-the-box . . . so New Economy! By offering teachers a break for being teachers, Davis places them in the same category as people who hold mortgages, have kids and give their old clunkers to charity. And that's exciting!

Here are a few other rewards he might offer teachers without stooping to the obvious and doling out--Ugh! the expression so smacks of the marketplace--cash.

* Great Parking: Under this exciting new program, teachers would be compensated with designated parking spaces at every shopping mall in the state. Teachers would receive a '3Rs' parking placard, which they would hang from the rear-view mirror when they go shopping or to their part-time jobs in the food court.

* No Sale!: How many teachers wouldn't be grateful to the state for exempting them from taking part in their schools' semiannual Beg-a-Thon? Come to think of it, how many parents would be willing to pay just a bit more in taxes instead of hassling co-workers and relatives to buy greeting cards, wrapping paper, peanut brittle, magazine subscriptions and all the other junk driving Jason and Jennifer into premature sales?

* For Art's Sake: By arrangement with the great auction houses, teachers would receive sizable discounts every time they buy Renaissance paintings valued at $5 million or more. This should go a long way toward ending all the grousing about the schools trashing their art programs!

* Free Tickets to "Friends": Teachers would see up close how other artists have allowed themselves to be commercialized by accepting compensation as corrupting as actual money. It might be a hard apple to swallow, but they'll be better off for it.

*

Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at steve.chawkins@latimes.com.

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