Jennifer Rincon won’t say how much money she is making, but says it is “enough.” Enough to pay for housing in Del Rey Oaks, which she says she is “lucky” to have found well below market rate. Enough for food, gas, bills, health care and retirement deductions and student loans. She started with $100,000 in student debt she has been paying off for 10 years, with about five more to go.
Student debt comes with the territory of becoming a fully qualified teacher and Rincon has a highly specialized and sought-out background. She has four credentials, a masters and bachelors degree. Her job, teaching physical education to students with special needs, is one of the hardest to fill in any public school district, including Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, where she works.
“It’s a rewarding job,” Rincon says. “I love seeing their faces when they accomplish something, and more schools just don’t have these programs.”
But the rewards aren’t monetary. To have enough disposable income for vacations or “any sort of fun,” Rincon says, MPUSD teachers take on second jobs. “Money is tight,” she says. “Anytime I do something that I didn’t plan for, it gets really tight.”
While most teachers defer some of their monthly paycheck during the academic year to keep getting paid over the summer, even that tactic isn’t enough. That’s why many teachers teach summer classes or take up other side hustles.
“Some do side gigs like drive Uber and Lyft, bus tables and bartend,” Monterey Bay Teachers Association President Lauren Mauck says. “That money is always bonus money.”
Incoming teachers are especially hit by the high cost of living. “If you’re a new teacher, you’re going to have roommates and housemates,” Mauck says. Rincon adds that MPUSD salaries, even for well-established teachers like her, aren’t enough to buy a house in the area.
Just over the hill in either direction – in Pacific Grove and Carmel unified school districts – a new teacher’s salary can start off $10,000 or even $20,000 higher than MPUSD’s, where salaries start around $47,000.
“It’s a systematic problem,” says MPUSD Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh, who feels a possible solution may be in restructuring property taxes that go toward funding public schools. MPUSD is mostly funded by the state, while Carmel and Pacific Grove rely on property taxes, generating more per pupil than the state’s funding formula; some of that factors into faculty salaries.
“A $5 million house in Carmel is obviously generating more money than a $500,000 house in Seaside,” Diffenbaugh says. The way taxes are structured now, MPUSD receives no monetary benefits of properties with high market values.
Since Diffenbaugh joined MPUSD in 2014, teacher’s salaries have increased by about 20 percent, but the cost of living keeps rising. “A lot of new teachers will look at how long it takes to get to that six-figure mark and think it’s not worth it,” Diffenbaugh says. “If we’re thinking about keeping our teachers, this isn’t a sustainable model.”
“That’s a massive disparity,” Rincon says. “People say, ‘Oh, you work on the Peninsula, you must be making money.’ That is not the case. A lot of us are scraping by.”