Texas Oil Boom: Bad For Teachers?

Oil boom teachers: Joleena Malugani After she completed her year as a student teacher in southern Oregon, Joleena Malugani (pictured) couldn't find work close to home. So she accepted the best offer she got -- which meant moving to the heart of oil country, Odessa, Texas -- and learned that not everyone is lifted in a boom economy.

West Texas' Permian Basin, the country's largest source of crude, is turning Odessa and neighboring Midland into "boomtowns;" the average income of Midland residents is now the second highest in the country, ahead of San Francisco and New York City. But a booming economy can work against some employees. While private employers can pay high school dropouts with no experience $70,000 a year to work on oil fields, a teacher with a college degree and three years' experience earns about $45,000 a year in Midland, and the public sector can't raise wages much.

"You've got truck drivers out there, if they're working full-time and working overtime, they're making upwards of seventy, eighty thousand dollars a year," Superintendent Ryder Warren says. "That's getting close to two of my teachers."

As a result, teachers like Malugani pay New York prices for tiny apartments or camp out in hotels, as rents skyrocket and their classrooms overflow with students. "I hadn't really heard of Odessa, Texas, before. I hadn't been to Texas period," says Malugani. "I had no idea this was happening."

More: Oil Boomtowns: Plenty of Jobs, But No Place To Live

In Midland and Odessa, every realtor has a wait list and hotel rooms can be hundreds of dollars a night. When Malugani moved to town in August, she found a hotel for $90 a night, but it was so filthy she slept in all her clothes, and moved the next day to a $180-a-night Super 8. Malugani finally landed a one-bedroom apartment for $990 a month, and the rate has already increased to $1,115 -- $1,265 if you were to pay month-to-month. That's half the take-home pay of a teacher like Malugani, who says her starting monthly salary, once you take out taxes, insurance and retirement, is between $2,400 and $2,500.

The Ector County Independent School District, where Odessa sits, has added 1,500 kids since April last year, according to superintendent Hector Mendez -- the equivalent of four elementary schools. Neighboring Midland Independent School District has 1,800 more students now than when the last school year began. Malugani's sixth-grade class has 29 students, but with no substitute teachers, the classes swell every time a teacher is out sick. Around 30 times last year, the art teacher had to close down the art department to substitute in other classes. And that isn't likely to change soon.

In 2011, Texas lawmakers slashed public school financing by roughly $5.4 billion over two years, which swallowed up millions for Midland and Ector's budgets. Times got so desperate that Midland residents voted for a $163 million school bond last month -- the largest bond in the county's history. Ector County voted for its own bond of $129 million.

Most of the money will go to build six new elementary schools, but it will take years for that relief to come. "I don't know what it can get to without it being a safety issue," Malugani says, noting that there aren't enough desks in one class, forcing students to share tables at the back.

Under Texas law, there must be at least one teacher for every 22 students between Kindergarten and 4th grade, unless the class receives a waiver from the government. The Ector County School District secured waivers for 168 classrooms this year.

More: Oil, Gas Boom To Create 3.5 Million Jobs by 2035, Industry Report Claims

Over 1,500 students go to school in 74 wooden portable buildings. "It's a mobile home, but it's a classroom," explains Superintendent Mendez -- without public address systems, or bathrooms.

Shortages of custodians, lunch room staff, bus drivers, and maintenance workers have forced other kinds of creative changes. "Anyone with a license like that and can drive a truck like that can make a lot more money in the oil fields than working part-time for me," explains Superintendent Warren, whose district is 35 bus drivers short.

A False Sense Of Reality

The dropout rate has actually declined during this boom, thanks to new strategies like a flexible scheduling option, which allows students to go to work during the day. But teachers like Malugani worry that West Texas children are learning about the world from a very curious vantage, one of quick fortunes and flowing money, as well as sharpened divides between haves and have-nots.

More: Out Of Work? North Dakota Oil Jobs Pay Up To $90k

"We've had students say, 'I make more than you do, and I don't even have a college degree,'" says Deborah Acosta, whose responsible for dropout prevention in the Midland Independent School District.

When Malugani asks her class what they want to be when they grow up, the boys either say an NFL player or an oil field worker. Only in a place like Odessa, after all, would you find a pumpjack on school property, right by the playground. Malugani urges students to focus on a trade, such as mechanic, which won't be subject to booms and busts. "They don't realize that [oil work is] not permanent, it's not a secure job," says Malugani.

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Bobby Quezada

I think a teacher should be able to make it .educating your kid is important.can he handle 300 lbs pipe and or does he want to ?

May 31 2015 at 6:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Leave it to someone who's not from here to do an interview like this. "Oilfield work isn't permanent?" Tell that to the scores of men I know who were roughnecks, pumpers, etc all their lives. "False sense of security?" Hmmm what about all those people all over the country who have college degrees but no jobs. The oil industry is as secure as any other industry, just may be experiencing peaks when other industries are not.

May 22 2014 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

what a bunch of whiners! The oil industry produces so many jobs that are intricate and immediate. yes, they can pay a truck driver a lot of money because of the importance of getting tools and equipment to a rig quickly to keep the process going. Why do teachers insist on comparing their jobs to those in the oil industry or professional athletes? If you are earning your money off the backs of taxpayers, you will NOT be paid like those in PRIVATE industry! Who cares if an idiot just out of high school thinks he can make a great career in the oil boom? He will get his answers quickly enough. Quit slamming them as uneducated. Quit protecting your college degree as something omnipotent.

April 06 2014 at 3:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is very unfortunate than so many people that are uneducated will get these high paying jobs thinking it will last their lifetime when in fact it is very short lived. It is very unfortunate that the teaching profession is too rigid with its pay structure. They should pay teachers based more on their skills in math and science as well as other good teachers based on industry not some arbitrary antiquated education system. The schools should update the pay based on need of business.
I do not live near the oil boom towns but I have a brother that has to this day the same mindset that his old job that paid fairly well with unlimited overtime pay where his relatively poor education allowed him live fairly well but unfortunately he lived to the extreme end of his paycheck. When I told him it will eventually end, he believed his employer would never stop the overtime train. After a few years of the gravy train it did end and now he is suffering and it he will suffer the rest of his life since he thinks he will get a similar job some time soon. Problem is that was five years ago and he is now 50 and he has very poor writing and math skills holding him back. Before it did not matter and now it does. An education is something that can never be taken from you and an education is a foundation to continue to learn. I feel bad for my brother but it is his choice and he is now paying for it. Nice money when he was making it but he did not finanically manage it well nor did he now will he go to school to improve himself. On ther other hand I was in college 17 years in college night school with a BS and two MS degrees. I make over 6 figures but I paid my dues.

September 02 2013 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I noticed the article didn't say ONE WORD about N. Dakota!

May 07 2013 at 11:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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