Schools Budget Talk of 100 Years Ago

A look back at the striking similarities and differences in Middletown schools budget negotiations a century ago compared to now.

It’s all about budgets this time of the year.  And 100 years ago, the story was the same — except there was a lot of haggling over a lot less money.

When you’re talking schools budgets these days, you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. A century ago, they were talking tens of thousands.

Granted, the dollar figures are all relative to the times. Tens of thousands was like hundreds of millions back then.

But, the issues surrounding spending are still pretty much the same: salaries and wages and construction. Forget about health benefits. There weren’t any. There was no insurance. But, oddly, they did seem to have a deal with a dentist, of the mind that bad teeth made for bad students.

The recently with a $125 million tax levy. Officials are proud that the budget figures came in under the state’s 2 percent cap on spending over last year.

The budget translates into an average tax hike of $46 a year for property owners.

Officials have called it the lowest tax increase in at least 10 years. True. It is.

That increase from one taxpayer, however, would have just about paid for one line item in the budget 100 years ago — an attendance officer at an annual salary of $50, according to a Middletown schools budget story published in the Red Bank Register’s March 27, 1912 issue.

“The total cost of running the schools of the township the coming year is estimated at $42,871,” the Register story said. “From this amount is to be deducted the money received from the state for school use. This is estimated at $19,871, leaving $23,000 to be raised in district taxes. Of this amount, $21,000 will be used in paying the current running expenses of the schools and $2,000 will be used for repairing the present school buildings.”

That $2,000 wouldn’t even cover a superintendent’s weekly salary right now.

William George, the district’s new superintendent, was hired at an annual salary of $187,000, more than usual. That amounts to $3,596 a week. He does have to oversee the operation of 17 schools in the largest district in the county and one of the largest in the state. And, George is well-liked and considered a good communicator and a good bet to stay put in what’s been dubbed a revolving door district.

And it is 100 years and probably a dozen or so more schools later. The comparison is just too interesting to pass up.

Interim Superintendent Thomas Pagano, who was retired from Ocean Township schools, earned a salary of $165,000 a year when he was in Middletown — plus his retirement pay of $121,761, New Jersey Watchdog reported. The group offered a list, culled from the state Department of Treasury database, of all government retirees earning $100,000 a year or more. The government employees on that list were cited as

Pagano was one of three retired Middletown schools administrators listed. The other two were: Dennis Jackson, superintendent from the 1990s, and Karen Bilbao, the last superintendent.

Broken down, the figures mean that Pagano, while in the district, made $3,173 a week, plus his pension of roughly $2,341 per week, for a grand total of $5,515 — a week.

There was no mention of pensions in the story of 100 years ago. They probably didn’t exist.

It didn’t look like administrators existed, either, according to the story and budget. All it said was that $24,085 of the budget was to go toward “salaries of teachers” — all of the teachers. No health benefits, except those odd dental costs. I’ll get to that.

The $24,085 comprised most of the budget. The case is the same now, with salaries and benefits accounting for 79 percent of the budget this year.

The average teacher salary in Middletown is listed as $62,360 from state figures on teachersalary.com.

A century ago, the same fight was going on. There was no union, but there was a plea to hike salaries to keep teachers that sounded strangely like union negotiation arguments.

“The township has lost some of its good teachers of late years because other districts are offering higher salaries than Middletown is paying,” the Register story said. “Many of the teachers of the township prefer to teach in Middletown, either because of home associations or for other reasons, and they are willing to teach for a considerably less um than they could obtain elsewhere; but when the difference is great between what Middletown pays and what is offered by other districts, the teachers are inclined to make a change … The board of education believes that the children of the township are entitled to first-class teachers, and they know that the only way to get and retain teachers of this type is to pay somewhere near the amount which these teachers are paid in other districts.”

So, the board was calling for $10 to $25 more a month for teachers. Gas money nowadays? No. Not enough. And, don’t forget, in 2001 hundreds of Middletown teachers were jailed for striking because their contracts were not settled.

And back on the benefits side 100 years ago, seemingly the only health benefit was that there was a line item for “dentist’s salary and supplies … $650.”

“The teeth of the children in the township have been looked after, which in many cases could not have been afforded by the parents,” the Register story said. “It is now recognized that good teeth is one of the most important aids to good health, and the work now being done in the township along this line will add to the efficiency of the pupils in their school work, as well as their efficiency in after life.”

I’m glad the board was concerned about good teeth in the after life those days. You never know whom you’re going to need to impress. Really, though, that idea was better than free milk. Ah, to be a student in 1912. Then again, how many women were afforded the opportunity of an education?

That brings me to the fabulous final note of this budget story … “The school meeting will be held at three o’clock Thursday afternoon, April 11th. Women are allowed to vote at this meeting.” Talk about benefits …


So, what do you think? Do teachers and administrators have it a lot better these days? How about students? Or do you think the situation is pretty similar to that of 100 years ago?

Suzy Zibutis April 14, 2012 at 05:19 AM
There's definitely something wrong with this picture......Wow! No wonder our taxes are so damn high - look at these ridiculous weekly salaries these people are getting! I'm busting my butt seven days and maybe making $200 -$300.a week! And these characters only have to work a 190 days out of the year! This is total BS!


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